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Jericho Sims’ career day not enough as Texas falls to No. 6 Kansas, 66-57

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The junior center contributed a career-high 20 points, but Texas could’t capitalize on key opportunities down the stretch.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 11 Kansas State at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Saturday served as significant opportunity for Texas to capture another much-needed resume-building win as the Longhorns near the meat of their Big 12 schedule, but as is often the case when Kansas is suiting up on the other end of the court, Texas just didn’t have enough in the tank, falling short in the final minutes, 66-57.

Unsurprisingly, it was Kansas’ sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, the Big 12’s leading scorer, who drew first blood, knocking down a pair of free throws two minutes into the action. In a sign of things to come, though, Jericho Sims responded on the other end, notching the first two of what ultimately became a career-high 20-point showing from the junior.

After David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike joined Dotson in the scoring column with a jumper and a jam, respectively, Sims found the net from mid-range to pull Texas back within a single score. Azubuike did build upon that lead on the ensuing possession, but by only a single point after splitting his free throw looks — a theme that persisted throughout the half as he converted only 3-of-8 attempts. This, in turn, allowed Coleman to knot the action at 7-7 moments later after converting an and-one opportunity. Azubuike wasted little time recapturing the lead, slamming home one of numerous dunks throughout the contest, but on the other end, Kamaka Hepa connected on his first three to provide Texas with its first lead, 10-9.

The back-and-forth affair continued as Dotson flashed inside and finished with a layup, only to see Courtney Ramey respond with a three seconds later to lift the Longhorns to a 13-11 lead. But then, the scoring belonged to Kansas, as Marcus Garrett connected on back-to-back buckets before another Dotson layup capped a 6-0 Kansas lead and forced a Texas timeout.

Texas — namely, Andrew Jones — returned the favor and then some coming out of the timeout, as Jones connected on a triple, and then another after a Kai Jones offensive board paved the way for another look from the top of the perimeter. In trying to recapture the lead, Garrett attempted a three of his own, but the long miss led to Jase Febres finding a streaking Jones in transition for a layup and a personal 8-0 run to force a Kansas timeout as the Jayhawks trailed, 21-17.

On the first possession out of the break, Azubuike turned the ball over via a travel, and Kansas’ next possession ended in similar fashion as Jase Febres’ active hands deflected the ball off of Garrett’s leg to force Kansas’ sixth turnover of the half. While Kansas remained in a drought that its turnovers certainly didn’t help, Ramey added another layup before Febres found his first points — a contested three to mark Texas’ fifth perimeter connection of the half.

Suddenly, Texas’ lead has stretched to 26-18 on the strength of a 13-1 run, which prompted a timeout from Kansas coach Bill Self.

The scoring drought, which spanned nearly eight minutes, ended coming out of the break, though, as an Isaiah Moss three found its mark — these would prove to be Kansas’ only bench points of the first half. Meanwhile, as Kansas clawed to find any points against an active Longhorns defense, Sims continued to work down low, slamming home a dunk just before the shot clock expired after burying Garrett in the post. On the ensuing possession, Sims rebounded his own miss and finished at the rim again to lift the Longhorns’ lead to 30-22, though he rolled his ankle in the process, sending him to the locker room ahead of halftime.

In any case, Sims’ efforts were enough to lead the Longhorns to a 21-26 halftime edge — seemingly an encouraging sign given that Texas entered the afternoon with a 10-1 record when leading at the break.

Despite the ankle injury that sent him to the sidelines down the stretch of the first half, it was Sims who opened the second-half action, slamming home yet another dunk to push Texas’ lead to seven, 33-26.

Then Azubuike began to impose his will in the interior. Whether it was dunking on Kai Jones, or converting hook shots over each shoulder over Sims, or slamming home open dunks, Azubuike took control offensively, and thus, Kansas enjoyed a 10-0 run that saw the Jayhawks capture the lead along the way, 36-33. In what became a battle of bigs, though, it was once again Sims who responded, converting an and-one to tie the action at 36, only to see Azubuike bounce back with another hook shot moments later.

Though he wasn’t finding much success defending Azubuike, Sims did turn some defense into offense shortly thereafter, blocking Garrett, who stayed down holding his face as Jones found Coleman in transition for a 39-38 Texas lead.

However, that would prove to be the last time the Longhorns led the Jayhawks.

After Azubuike enjoyed his fair share of dominance to erase Texas’ first-half lead, Dotson began to do what he does best — score — with many of those looks coming after his grabbed offensive rebounds, just as he did by snagging his own miss and earning an and-one opportunity to give Kansas a 40-39 edge. That said, Texas did make it a back-and-forth contest once again, answering nearly every Kansas bucket with one of its own.

Just when it seemed as if Kansas was establishing some breathing room with a 50-45 edge with 8:27 to play, Gerald Liddell, who served as a spark off the bench in the form of energy and five points, answered with a layup in transition after notching a steal. A pair of Dotson free throws extended the lead again, only to see that lead trimmed to two, 52-50, after Coleman connected from deep.

Once again, though, it was Dotson who answered with a layup after recovering his own miss.

Texas’ response?

Yet another Sims dunk courtesy of an alley-oop from Coleman, and then another the next time down after Liddell found a wide open Sims with a beautiful no-look dish.

Sims’ latest dunk did more than tie the game, though — it quite clearly captured the momentum, which Self aimed to stem with a timeout.

It worked.

Coming out of the timeout, Garrett slashed for a quick layup, and then another moments later, which was initially ruled a charge before being overturned and deemed an and-one and a foul on Febres. Not so surprisingly it what could have proven to be another key opportunity for the Longhorns, Texas could be seen walking back to the bench almost deflated.

Moments later, Dotson gave the Horns a reason to feel that way, delivering what essentially served as a dagger three with 2:44 left as Kansas’ cushion increased to 62-54. Texas had a little life left after Sims followed yet another dunk with a deflection, though Kansas came away with the ball courtesy of the possession arrow.

Nevertheless, Kansas wasn’t able to capitalize with only two seconds remaining on the shot clock, but Texas largely wasn’t, either.

After an empty possession from each team, Dotson did capitalize from the charity stripe, converting four key looks down the stretch to send Texas to 12-5 overall and back below .500 in league play at 2-3.

Ultimately, this game was a winnable one for Texas. But when you allow one offensive rebound after another, fail to capitalize on opportunities for free points from the free throw line, and simply can’t connect on a key bucket here and there in crucial moments, the odds of coming out on top are significantly reduced.

Texas experienced exactly that on Saturday, falling short after leading at halftime for just the second time this season.

In addition to Sims’ 20 points, Coleman contributed 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, but no other Longhorn joined them in double figures. Ramey and Jones each finished with eight points. As a team, Texas connected only 6-of-20 three-point attempts, and five of those makes came in the first half.

Meanwhile, Dotson (21), Azubuike (17), and Garrett (13) combined for 51 of Kansas’ 66 points.

Next up, the Longhorns will be on the road against No. 12 West Virginia on Monday as both programs look to bounce back from Saturday losses.