KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Texas wrapped up its Big 12 campaign Saturday with the biggest prize of the conference. Now the Longhorns have another trophy in their sights.
Texas showed plenty of guts, defense, rebounds, guts and a balanced attack while clinching its second Big 12 tournament title in three years with a stunning 76-56 win over Kansas at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Oh, and did we mention sand?
Rodney Terry, the interim coach who keeps arguing for the full-time job, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We knew the deal was going to be tough,” Terry said. “But we were very happy about it and the approach and attitude of these guys towards this tournament was that they wanted to be champions. They really did it and they made it possible. I’m proud and happy for them.”
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Dylan Disu continued his hot game in the paint with 18 points to cap a remarkable weekend in the heart of Big 12 country. The 6-foot-9 senior school averaged 44 on 68% shooting in Texas’ three wins at the tournament, and he added 25 boards, three blocks and five steals.
But any hardware comes from defense, Disu stressed after the game.
“We definitely talked about it all week to make it our defense,” he said. “We really emphasize that and we need to get as high as we can to the level that we know we can alludes to. There aren’t too many teams out there that can do what we did tonight. We just left everything on defense.”
Disu’s attack was pretty good too, said reigning Kansas coach Norm Roberts.
“Disu has really changed his game and he’s really gotten a lot better,” said Roberts. “He’s a big factor because he’s big, he can score at a perimeter, he hits floaters and then he can post smaller guys, so that really helped them with a presence inside.”
A team that was heavily influenced by role players had to take turns slipping into leading roles. Marcus Carr broke out of a scoring slump with 17 points. Brock Cunningham, the team’s unlikely working-class hero, seemed to come up with every free ball in the Longhorns’ second half. He also contributed a pair of 3-pointers that helped give the Longhorns a 39-33 halftime lead.
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Jabari Rice started his third straight game in place of the injured Timmy Allen and looked like his microwave old self with 17 points. Freshman Arterio Morris went on a 10-0 run in the first half and rose over the edge to end an alley-oop by Rice that put Texas 70-50 ahead and the win by 4 minutes and 30 minutes Final almost sealed game.
Overall, every Texas player in the rotation scored in what Terry called a total team effort.
“Everyone on the court did their part, cutting shots, moving shots and putting them down,” Carr said. “Everyone on the pitch was a threat.”
That balanced performance nullified a one-man show from Kansas’ Jalen Wilson, who scored 24 points.
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The Big 12’s top two teams during the regular season, the clash between No. 7 Texas (26-8) and No. 3 Kansas (27-7) provided a fitting conclusion to the Kansas City basketball fiesta. Kansas won the straight-line regular-season title while the Longhorns finished alone in second place. The teams split their two regular season meetings.
Both went into the title fight with an interim head coach and no key players. Roberts, a longtime assistant, filled in for Bill Self, who missed the entire tournament after undergoing emergency medical surgery earlier in the week. Forward Kevin McCullar Jr. also missed the game for the Jayhawks after apparently injuring his back in Friday’s semifinal win over Iowa State.
At the Texas bench, Terry has served as interim head coach since former head coach Chris Beard was suspended following a Dec. 12 arrest on charges of assaulting a family member after a confrontation with his fiancee at their home. Like the Jayhawks, Texas played without a high-profile forward in Allen, who missed all three of the Longhorns’ Big 12 tournament games after injuring his right lower leg in last week’s regular-season win against Kansas.
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Kansas, Texas shares high hopes for the NCAA tournament
Both teams certainly went into the NCAA tournament with a high seed, but they will know their fate when the NCAA selection committee releases the full brackets at 5 p.m. Sunday. Kansas, the defending national champion, has a good chance of retaining the No. 1 overall finish despite Saturday’s loss, while Texas secured at least a spot on the No. 2 line.
If the Longhorns snag at least one No. 2 seed, they open the NCAA tournament on rare air. Texas has claimed 26 spots since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Longhorns were No. 1 once in 2003 and No. 2 twice in 2006 and 2008.
Regardless of where the NCAA selection committee ranks Texas, Terry said the Longhorns’ performance in Kansas City proved they could rival any team in the country.
“I think our work was pretty good,” he said. “We’ve played this season with the mindset that every game is an NCAA tournament game. Our boys have had an incredible run all season. And I think by playing in the best league in the country we’ve made a really good case for whatever comes out.”
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