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Texas crushed Kansas 76-56 to win its second Big 12 tournament title. The Longhorns have now beaten powerhouse Kansas twice in eight days, defeating the Jayhawks in Austin a week ago, 75-59.
“This has been a resilient group all year,” Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry said in his postgame television interview. “They worked their tails off. We are 12 great champions!”
His players then choked up and showered him with hugs and cheers as they all jumped to celebrate. Not only did they beat Kansas in their backyard, they beat the defending national champions by 20 points in their backyard in front of a very pro-KU crowd.
Texas came out aggressive and went right to Kansas. The Horns got early layups, made their presence known inside and battled with every possession. At the half, the Longhorns had 20 points in the paint to KU’s 10. They finished with a 38-28 lead. Dylan Disu, Jabari Rice and Marcus Carr combined for 52 points and Brock Cunningham had eight points and nine rebounds. The guys stepped up everywhere, as they have this entire tournament, to replace the production of starter Timmy Allen, who was benched for the third straight game with a leg injury.
Texas shared the ball well, racking up 16 assists. The prettiest had to be Rice’s. While leading a drive, he threw an alley-oop to freshman Arterio Morris, who delivered a thunderous dunk to make it a 20-point game with 4:34 left.
Texas held Kansas to 56 points on 41 percent shooting. Jalen Wilson, who was the unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year, led the Jayhawks with 24 points and added six rebounds. The rest of the team accumulated 32 points on 15 of 39 shooting.
Point guard Kevin McCullar did not play after leaving the semifinal earlier Friday. He experienced back spasms and re-aggravated his injury. Kansas interim head coach Norm Roberts said before the game that he wanted to make sure McCullar was healthy for next week, so they will sit him out.
Kansas owns the Big 12 tournament, winning a record 12 titles. It’s never easy to beat them at home, away from home, but that’s what the Longhorns did. And that makes them a very dangerous and hot team heading into the NCAA tournament.
Seven NCAA Tournament seeds?
Even before that result, Kansas was locked into a No. 1 seed. There had been discussion that Texas could also get a No. 1 seed if they beat Kansas for the league title, but all signs still point to the Longhorns they are a #2 seed.
When was the last time Texas landed a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament? It was in 2008 when the team was led by DJ Augustin.
At Sunday’s NCAA selection show, we’ll also find out how many Big 12 bids they’ll get. There will be at least seven teams from the conference: Kansas, Texas, Baylor, TCU, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia. Oklahoma State is on the bubble and it could go either way.
At one point it looked like the Big 12 might have as many as 10 bids, but that changed as the season progressed. The Big Ten could get eight or nine bids and the SEC could get six or seven. Of course, there could be surprises on Selection Sunday.
Interim head coaches lead the way
For the first time, a conference tournament championship pitted teams playing under interim head coaches against each other.
Roberts-coached Kansas led the program effortlessly through the Big 12 tournament in Bill Self’s absence. Self, who underwent an emergency medical procedure this week, missed the conference tournament entirely after being hospitalized Wednesday night. However, the Hall of Famer has communicated with his team, speaking to them remotely and letting them know the pride he’s been watching from afar.
“It was great to talk to him, to hear his voice,” Wilson said. “He was really proud of how we did last game and I’m sure he’ll be proud of us this game.”
Roberts told reporters after KU’s semifinal win over Iowa State that Self is “getting better,” but there’s still no timetable for his return with the NCAA tournament coming up next week next. Kansas is expected to be a No. 1 seed as it strives to defend its title.
Roberts has trained with Self for most of his career. He has been at Kansas for 12 seasons and was on Self’s previous staff at Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts. He also coached the Jayhawks’ first four games of the season when the university placed a self-imposed four-game suspension on Self for his possible role in an NCAA violations case. Kansas went up 4-0.
On the other side was Terry, who has been the interim coach at Texas since early January. That’s when the university fired Chris Beard after an arrest on domestic violence charges. Terry, who is clearly beloved by his players, has been around the sport for nearly three decades and has been part of the Longhorns program for part of his career. He was an assistant under Rick Barnes for nine seasons from 2002 to 2011 and was in his second year as an associate head coach at Texas before being named interim head coach.
This year he helped lead Texas to its first 25-win season since 2010-11 and was nominated for national awards; he is currently one of 10 semifinalists for Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year.
With each win, especially at this time of year, Terry only strengthens his case to shed that interim tag.
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. 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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