After a joyless and low-energy performance on Wednesday in a loss to the No. 22 TCU Horned Frogs, the No. 9 Texas Longhorns turned in an inspired performance on Saturday at the Moody Center in a dominant 75-59 win over the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks.
The victory gave the Longhorns a 6-0 record against AP Top 25 opponents in the inaugural season in the Mood in addition to a 17-1 mark overall as the Longhorns welcome a true homecourt advantage to the program.
Combined with wins by Iowa State over Baylor and West Virginia over Kansas State, Texas entered the game with a chance to secure the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament with a win and took care of business against a Kansas team that came to Austin with a seven-game winning streak and a shot at earning the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But the Horns were locked in on defense all day, holding the Jayhawks to 36.2-percent shooting and .894 points per possession, the fourth-worst performance of the season for Kansas, a top-25 offense nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric.
Most notably, Texas limited guard Gradey Dick to only six points on 2-of-5 shooting as the standout freshman finished minus-19 on the day. Dick’s first basket came with nine minutes remaining and cut the Longhorns lead to eight points, but the Jayhawks never got closer than seven points in the second half. The performance came in stark contrast to Dick’s 21-point game against Texas in Lawrence that started the winning streak for Kansas.
Texas guard Tyrese Hunter continued his strong play over the last four games, scoring 20 points and making 9-of-10 free throws, but it was guard Sir’Jabari Rice who truly starred for the Longhorns on Saturday, scoring 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting while adding seven rebounds. No other players scored in double digits as the struggles for guard Marcus Carr continued with a 2-of-9 performance that featured misses on all five three-point attempts.
More importantly, the Longhorns reminded themselves of how good they can be when they lock in on defense and use those stops to get out in transition with a 17-4 advantage in fast-break points. The overall ball movement was impressive, too, with Texas registering 19 assists on 25 made field goals.
Texas got off to a slow start offensively in the halfcourt, taking nearly three minutes to score for the first time, but the Moody Center came alive after forward Timmy Allen hit a baseline jumper when Carr found forward Dillon Mitchell for a lob dunk in transition and then Hunter after getting into a passing lane to create a steal. At the first media timeout, Kansas was struggling offensively — forward KJ Adams scored 13 seconds into the game before the Jayhawks missed their next four shots over almost four minutes.
Carr kept the momentum going, hitting a jumper while virtually horizontal as he was fouled and converting the three-point play at the line. As Kansas ended the scoring drought at five minutes, Hunter and Carr both missed chances to blow the roof off the new arena when a pair of open threes failed to find the net. The Longhorns were getting plenty of open looks with the Jayhawks doubling catches in the post, but missed their first seven attempts from beyond the arc and six shots in a row until a steal by guard Arterio Morris produced a fast-break dunk by Rice.
The poor shooting by Texas mean the Horns weren’t able to create significant separation while the Jayhawks started 3-of-14 shooting from the field, but Rice had a three-point play and Morris broke the streak of missed threes at eight, forcing a timeout by Kansas with the score 17-9 at the 9:59 mark.
After a poor offensive stretch for both teams, Hunter hit consecutive threes, extending the lead to 28-16, prompting Jayhawks head coach Bill Self to opt for another break in the action.
When Kansas forward Jalen Wilson hit a three to cut the lead to seven points, Texas looked like it was in danger of finishing the half poorly, but four straight points from Rice pushed the margin back into double digits before a late three from the Jayhawks to make it 32-24 at halftime.
The Horns started hot in the second half with an opening 7-0 run highlighted by a lob from Hunter to forward Dylan Disu with a finish through contact as the Jayhawks missed their first four shots after halftime.
After going down by 15 points, Kansas was able to keep Texas from extending the lead, but wasn’t able to score consecutive baskets, either, heading into the under-12 timeout down 10 points.
On two occasions, the Jayhawks cut the lead to seven points with the Longhorns responding each time, earning a chance to go ahead by double digits again at the under-eight timeout when Hunter was fouled in transition, converting both after the break. When Kansas forward Gradey Dick hit his second three of the second half, Texas got a stop and Rice found forward Christian Bishop for a layup. Well into the bonus, the Horns hit 12-of-15 free throws in the second half, including Hunter going 8-for-8. Then Rice got hot, scoring seven straight points for Texas. And that ensured that the Jayhawks never had a chance to make a late run.
The Big 12 Tournament tips off Wednesday in Kansas City with Texas set to play on Thursday at 6 p.m. Central against the winner of the game between the No. 7 seed and No. 10 seed.