Big 12 semis takeaways: Kansas, Texas set to square off for championship

Note: Laken Litman is sharing information on the action throughout the Big 12 tournament.

Game 2: Texas 66, TCU 60

If you go to the Texas men’s basketball roster page on the UT athletics website, you’ll see a horizontal photo of all 14 players walking arm in arm to their court. At first glance, it’s just a nice team photo. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the image is indicative of how close and connected this group of guys is and have been all season.

The Longhorns have been forced to come together amid all kinds of adversity this season. From their coach Chris Beard being arrested on domestic violence charges and then fired, to one of their best players in Timmy Allen having to sit out the Big 12 tournament with a leg injury, they’ve discovered how to persevere and deal with it. all.

It’s that kind of character that will continue to serve Texas well this March. The Longhorns took on TCU on Friday, beating the Horned Frogs 66-60 in a semifinal game that went down to the wire. Now, No. 2-seeded Texas will play No. 1-seeded Kansas on Saturday in the championship game of the Big 12 tournament. These two teams met a week ago in Austin. Texas won 75-59, but Kansas had already clinched the league’s regular season title before the tip.

Texas had to beat TCU, a team it split regular-season matchups with, without Allen and all of his production. The senior forward is the team’s leading rebounder (171 boards this season, averaging 5.5 per game), is second in assists (109) and the third-leading scorer (10.5 points per game). Unable to be on the court with her teammates, Allen stood on the sidelines throughout the game as the No. 1 Longhorn cheerleader. He never sat down, always standing trying to keep his energy levels high.

In his absence, seniors Dylan Disu and Christian Bishop combined for 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting and 15 rebounds. Disu had a big block that turned into a Marcus Carr layup on the other end to give Texas a 62-56 lead with 2:02 to play. Carr finished with 10 points and Tyrese Hunter had nine. It wasn’t Texas’ best game of the year — it made two 3-pointers and Sir’Jabari Rice was uncharacteristically cold from the field, scoring just five points on 2-for-12 shooting and going 0-for-7 from three. – but they are a tough team and have found a way to win.

Kansas looked like a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in its win over Iowa State, but it may be without senior guard Kevin McCullar for the conference final. He has been battling spasms throughout the Big 12 tournament and had to sit out the semifinal game after aggravating it. Kansas is also playing without head coach Bill Self, who underwent a procedure at the University of Kansas Health System this week.

Who can face adversity better? Who has the most united team? Those are questions that will be answered in Saturday’s conference championship game.

Game 1: Kansas 71, Iowa State 58

As if Kansas wasn’t motivated enough to defend their national title, the players and coaches are even more fired up and want to win it all for their coach, Bill Self.

Just before the first game of the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals began Thursday, Kansas announced that Self, the program’s legendary coach, would miss the game against West Virginia due to an illness. The Jayhawks beat the Mountaineers 78-61 under longtime assistant coach Norm Roberts. The university later said Self would miss the rest of the Big 12 tournament because he was receiving care at the University of Kansas Health System following a procedure.

Kansas shared a statement released by the hospital with an update on Self’s health, noting that the coach did not have a heart attack.

“Medical director Dr. Steve Stites would like to clarify that Coach Self did not suffer a heart attack as some media outlets have reported,” the hospital said in a statement. “He arrived at the emergency department last night and underwent a standard procedure which went well. He is expected to make a full recovery.”

Self was able to speak with his team Friday morning before the Jayhawks’ Big 12 Tournament semifinal against Iowa State, keeping the mood high with hopes that his team would play carefree basketball.

“It was great to talk to him, to hear his voice,” forward Jalen Wilson remarked. “He said just go out there, keep playing the right way and keep playing Kansas basketball.”

The Jayhawks did just that as Wilson scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Kansas to a stunning 71-58 victory over Iowa State and a berth in Saturday’s conference title game.

“With him not being here, it brought us together even more through the adversity we’ve been through all season,” Wilson said. “It’s bigger than us. It’s just another moment to show how tight this group is and no matter what happens, we’re a team and a family.”

The health of himself quickly became a national story, and will likely continue to be so throughout the NCAA Tournament. Once word got around Kansas City, the site of the Big 12 tournament, other coaches around the league addressed the situation and sent positive vibes Self’s way.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins knows what it’s like to have a health scare. He suffered heart attacks in 2002 and 2017, when he collapsed on the sidelines during a game when his defibrillator went off.

“I think it would be very difficult for Bill at this time of year [to miss games] because they’re trying to make another run for a national championship,” said Huggins, who is friends with Self. “Being in the state he’s in right now, I think it would be very difficult.”

Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry opened his news conference Thursday with a comment about Self following the Longhorns’ win over Oklahoma State.

“He’s a staff man in this league,” Terry said, “a guy we have a lot of respect for, and we’re just praying for a good recovery for him today.”

Roberts, who will serve as KU’s coach until further notice, has coached with Self for most of his career. He has been at Kansas for 12 seasons, but was on Self’s previous staff at Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts. He also coached the Jayhawks’ first four games of the 2022-23 season when KU placed Self on a self-imposed four-game suspension for his possible role in an NCAA violations case. Kansas went up 4-0.

After Kansas’ win over West Virginia on Thursday, Roberts was asked how he’s been able to compartmentalize and focus on games given their close friendship. He evoked a line Self often uses, which is to “focus on what you can control,” which seemed to work for Roberts and the players.

“We always talk about the next man up,” Roberts said. “You know, faces change, expectations don’t. That’s our motto. That’s what we live for.”

Kansas will now set its sights on Saturday’s Big 12 title game, where it will play No. 7 Texas in a highly anticipated top-10 matchup. The Jayhawks split their regular season series with the Longhorns, winning at home 88-80 on Feb. 6 and then losing on the road in their meeting earlier this month, 75-59.

Kansas is expected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.

While there’s no timetable for Self’s return, Roberts said the coach is in good spirits and “already wants to watch film.”

He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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