'It's the best we've played': KU basketball resurgence continues with win over Texas Tech
LAWRENCE — Winner of five straight games and victorious in Saturday’s top-25 matchup versus Texas Tech, Kansas basketball appears to have finally rediscovered its blue-blood mojo.
Need proof? Consider how one Jayhawk says he felt during the tense final moments against the Red Raiders, who turned an 11-point deficit with three minutes remaining into a one-possession game.
“Never nervous,” said redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson. “I’d say basketball just has its swings like that.”
KU’s season has certainly seen its share of them.
The No. 23-ranked Jayhawks earned a wire-to-wire, yet down-to-the-wire, 67-61 victory over the No. 15 Red Raiders at Allen Fieldhouse, an outcome that pushed KU’s record in February contests to 6-1. That stretch followed the team’s 3-5 tumble in January, which itself came after an 8-1 start that had the Jayhawks ranked third nationally entering the New Year.
With just two games left in its regular season, KU may have saved its best for last.
“It’s the best we’ve played,” said Bill Self, addressing the victory over Texas Tech in a postgame news conference. “We actually played better offense than what we scored because we missed a lot of really good looks that I think we should make a higher percentage (on). … We did a lot of good things, and we guarded. They really guarded us and I thought we handled their pressure pretty well.
“I’m leaving out of here feeling the best I’ve felt in a long time about this group.”
And, after Saturday, for good reason.
KU (17-7, 11-5 Big 12) raced out to a 10-2 advantage, led 31-24 at halftime and kept the visitors at arm’s-length for the first 17 minutes of the second half — Marcus Garrett's jumper with 4:47 remaining and Ochai Agbaji's 3-pointer 40 seconds later gave the Jayhawks a 62-51 advantage, which they held entering the game's final three minutes.
But the Red Raiders (14-7, 6-6), playing their first game since Feb. 9, didn’t go down without a fight. Kevin McCullar and Marcus Santos-Silva each hit a pair of free throws to trim their team’s deficit to seven, and after an Agbaji turnover on an inbounds attempt, McCullar drilled a 3 to make it a 62-58 game with 90 seconds left.
Wilson converted a put-back dunk on the Jayhawks’ next possession, but Terrence Shannon’s trey just five seconds later — Tech hit just three 3s across the game’s first 38-plus minutes — made it a one-possession game, 64-61, with 44 seconds left.
“They hit some shots; we turned the ball over,” Wilson said. “We just had to regroup ... and be confident in what we were doing and be confident in the plays we made to end the game. Stuff like that happens. We’ve just got to clean it up and make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Christian Braun’s 3 at the end of a shot clock — Wilson set the table for the look with a drive-and-dish assist — gave KU a six-point lead and the game its final score. Shannon and Mac McClung were unable to connect on their own 3s in the final 10 seconds.
Braun, a sophomore guard, was 1 for 9 from distance before that clutch bucket.
“Sometimes our guys shoot it better when they know they have to shoot it, and sometimes they’re hesitant when they don’t have to shoot it,” Self said. “And so three, two, one (on the shot clock) probably put (Braun) in a position, after starting 1 for 9, that probably gave him more confidence that he shot aggressively because there was no other option. It was a big-time shot, a big-time play.”
David McCormack scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Jayhawks, who got double-figure scoring performances from all five starters. Agbaji finished with 14 points, Wilson had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Braun and Garrett contributed 10 points apiece. KU committed just six turnovers in the victory.
“We’ve never had bad attitudes, never, but we can kind of have an attitude that doesn’t see things through a very winning light at times. I think we were all going through that," Self said. "But I feel like we’ve gotten out of that, I do. I think this has been a good stretch for us. We haven’t always played well, but we got confidence through it. That’s why I’m feeling better, because I still think there’s another step this team can take.”
McCormack said the game had “some moments” of every Jayhawk clicking at the same time but added it was at other moments “still kind of a struggle,” particularly on the offensive end.
“Coach (Self) talked to us: We had a great all-around game yet we still didn’t hit the shots we know we can hit. We got a lot of great looks,” McCormack said. “Once those start falling the point difference is going to be even bigger and be a much easier game.”
McCullar and Santos-Silva each scored 12 points to pace the Red Raiders, who got just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting from McClung. The former Georgetown transfer entered the afternoon the Big 12 leader in points per game (19.7) in conference play.
KU will next week look to finish out its regular season on a high note when it takes on No. 12 Texas at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Austin and plays host to No. 2 Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lawrence. The Longhorns and Bears both earned decisive victories over the Jayhawks in earlier matchups, with Texas earning an 84-59 win on Jan. 2 in Allen Fieldhouse and Baylor taking a 77-69 decision on Jan. 18 in Waco, Texas.
“We’re not close to being where we want to be, but we have two opportunities next week to gain on that,” Self said, “and (we’re) certainly looking forward to playing two teams that cleaned our clock the first time."
NO. 23 KANSAS 67, NO. 15 TEXAS TECH 61
TEXAS TECH (14-7, 6-6 Big 12)
McClung 4-13 1-2 11, Shannon 2-3 0-0 5, Edwards 1-4 0-0 3, Santos-Silva 5-11 2-3 12, McCullar 4-9 3-6 12, Burton 1-2 2-2 4, Nadolny 0-0 0-0 0, Peavy 4-6 2-4 10, Smith 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 22-52 12-19 61.
KANSAS (17-7, 11-5 Big 12)
Garrett 5-7 0-1 10, Braun 3-13 2-2 10, Wilson 4-11 1-2 11, Agbaji 4-11 3-4 14, McCormack 7-10 3-3 17, Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Thompson 2-8 0-0 5, Lightfoot 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 9-12 67.
Half — Kansas 31-25. 3-point goals — Texas Tech 5-15 (McClung 2-6, Shannon 1-2, Edwards 1-2, McCullar 1-4, Smith 0-1), Kansas 8-26 (Agbaji 3-8, Wilson 2-5, Braun 2-10, Thompson 1-2, Garrett 0-1). Rebounds — Texas Tech 35 (Santos-Silva 8), Kansas 36 (Wilson 11). Assists — Texas Tech 11 (McClung 4), Kansas 17 (Garrett 5). Turnovers — Texas Tech 9 (McClung 2, Shannon 2, Peavy 2), Kansas 6 (Garrett 3). Blocks — Texas Tech 3 (Edwards, Santos-Silva, McCullar), Kansas 4 (Braun 2). Steals — Texas Tech 2 (Edwards, Burton), Kansas 2 (Wilson, Agbaji). Total fouls — Texas Tech 14, Kansas 18. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Officials — Luckie, Ayers, Wells. Attendance — 2,500.