Sunday, March 16, 2008
Kansas locks down a No. 1 seed by locking down Texas
By Tim Griffin
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self never really was concerned about winning a No. 1 bid into the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
Tennessee opened the door late Saturday by falling to Arkansas in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference championship.
The Jayhawks took care of the rest, making the NCAA tournament selection committee's decision academic. Their impressive 84-74 triumph over Texas in the Big 12 championship game catapulted them into the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.
|D.J. Augustin had a tough time getting it going in the second half against Kansas.|
"We're happy we're a 1-seed," Self said. "But I'm not sure it makes much difference, to be honest with you. The only thing it says is that we've had a great year. If we had been a 2-seed, our year would have been just as good."
Self's team proved that with a grinding defensive performance in the second half to help wrap up its third straight Big 12 title and a first-round date Thursday in Omaha, Neb., against Portland State. If there were any doubters in Indianapolis, the Jayhawks' defensive effort in the second half served as a ringing punctuation point.
For the second straight game, the Jayhawks overcame a halftime deficit. But their superior perimeter depth and quickness helped spark a closing 19-5 run in the final minutes to push them to another conference title past the Longhorns.
"There's not a lot of difference between those two teams today," Self said. "It wasn't really a 10-point game. If we had played another three minutes, Texas might have gone on those 11-0 runs."
The Longhorns got a favorable consolation prize by being directed through the South Region as the second seed. It gives them the potential of a home-court advantage at Reliant Stadium in Houston in a potential regional final against top seed Memphis.
Texas used a similar scheduling advantage in 2003 to make its only Final Four appearance under coach Rick Barnes, beating Michigan State in the regional finals in San Antonio.
Barnes wouldn't let himself look ahead to such a scenario, concerning himself more with the Longhorns' first-round game Friday in Little Rock, Ark., against No. 15 Austin Peay.
"They don't like Texas too much in Arkansas, do they?" Barnes chuckled after learning about his first-round location. "But I don't believe you even allow yourself to think that far out. You just have to take care of one step. And we're not worrying about anything other than Austin Peay."
The Jayhawks might look to history for motivation as well. Their path will include two games in Omaha and a trip through the Detroit regional. Coach Larry Brown played in Lincoln, Neb., and then Detroit when Kansas claimed its last national championship in 1988.
"What a coincidence," Kansas guard Russell Robinson said. "Hopefully we can end up like the 1988 team. We have the guys to do it. But it will take a lot of effort to accomplish that."
Kansas won't be able to afford the defensive holes that allowed Texas guard D.J. Augustin to singe them for 18 points in the first half on Sunday for a long tournament run.
Self turned to Kansas icon and current Jayhawk assistant coach Danny Manning for a little inspiration after Texas lit them up for 58.1 percent shooting in the first half on Sunday.
Memories about "Danny and the Miracles" and that team's spirited defensive effort against Oklahoma in that championship game still resonate across the Sunflower State. And it did again on Sunday.
"I told them in front of Danny that today was probably as good a half of basketball played in Kansas City since the 1988 championship game," Self said. "But then I asked Danny what happened in the second half. He said the game slowed down and we guarded them."
That encouragement -- something that after the game Self admitted was "corny" -- seemed to work. Augustin was limited to two points in the second half, missing all nine of his field-goal attempts. Texas shot only 24.2 percent after the break.
"I think we wore them down a lot," Kansas guard Mario Chalmers said. "We just kept running. D.J. played 40 minutes, and that's hard for anybody. You could tell he was tired -- particularly after how he played in the first half."
If clutching of shorts was any indication, the Longhorns were spent. Their rotation was depleted without forward Gary Johnson, who missed the final two Big 12 tournament games with a sprained ankle. And Augustin was forced to play the game without a rest -- something that Barnes said after the game he'd hoped to avoid.
"I told the team we got to make a conscious effort to guard them," Self said. "Because in a H-O-R-S-E game, I don't know if you want to get in one with the way that [A.J.] Abrams and Augustin [shoot]."
I think we wore them down a lot. We just kept running. D.J. played 40 minutes, and that's hard for anybody. You could tell he was tired -- particularly after how he played in the first half.
--Kansas' Mario Chalmers
Tough Big 12 tournament victories over Texas A&M and Texas can't hurt Kansas as it prepares for a short turnaround before Thursday's NCAA opener. But Self had other worries after Sunday's game.
"This tournament took a lot out of us," Self said. "It was good for us, but we need to get our batteries recharged. Right now, I'm simply worn out."
Tim Griffin covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.