Texas men stun Kansas to win Big 12 basketball title, make its claim for a No. 2 seed
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Texas ended its Big 12 campaign Saturday with the conference’s biggest prize. Now the Longhorns have their eyes on another trophy.
Texas showed plenty of grit, defense, rebounding, grit and a balanced attack while claiming its second Big 12 tournament title in three years with a stunning 76-56 win over Kansas at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Oh, and did we mention grit?
Rodney Terry, the interim coach who keeps making his case for the full-time job, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The deal coming into this, we knew it was going to be tough,” Terry said. “But we were excited about it, and these guys' approach and their attitude toward this tournament was, they wanted to be champions. They really did, and they made it happen. I’m proud and excited for them.”
Dylan Disu continued his torrid play in the paint with 18 points to cap a remarkable weekend in the heart of Big 12 country. The 6-foot-9 senior school scored 44 total points 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 insisted after the game.
“We definitely have been talking about it all week to put it on our defense,” he said “We really emphasize that, and we've got to go up as high as we can to the level that we know we're capable of playing it at. There's not too many teams out there that can do what we did tonight. We just left it all out there on defense.”
Disu’s offense was pretty good, too, said acting Kansas coach Norm Roberts.
“Disu has really changed his game, and he's really gotten a lot better,” Roberts said. “He's a big factor because he's big, he can score on a perimeter, he hit floaters, and then he can post them smaller guys, so that's really helped them with an inside presence.”
A team heavy on role players had each take turns stepping into starring roles. Marcus Carr broke out of a scoring slump by pouring in 17 points. Brock Cunningham, the team’s unlikely working-class hero, seemed to come up with every loose ball in the Longhorns’ second-half surge. He also contributed a pair of 3-pointers that helped give the Longhorns a 39-33 halftime lead.
More:Christian Bishop helps muscle Texas into Big 12 title game
Jabari Rice started his third straight game in place of the injured Timmy Allen and looked like his old microwave self with 17 points. Freshman Arterio Morris keyed a 10-0 run in the first half and soared above the rim to finish an alley-oop from Rice that gave Texas a 70-50 lead and all but sealed the win with 4 minutes, 30 minutes to go in the game.
Altogether, every Texas player in the rotation scored in what Terry called a total team effort.
“Everybody on the court was doing their part, cutting and moving and knocking down shots,” Carr said. “Everybody on the court was a threat.”
That balanced effort negated a one-man show from Kansas’ Jalen Wilson, who scored 24 points.
March Madness:How Texas basketball has fared in NCAA Tournaments after winning conference tournaments
The two best teams in the Big 12 during the regular season, the meeting between No. 7 Texas (26-8) and No. 3 Kansas (27-7) provided a fitting conclusion to the hoops fiesta in Kansas City. Kansas won the outright regular-season title while the Longhorns finished alone in second. The teams split their two regular-season meetings.
Both entered the title tilt with an interim head coach and without a key player. Roberts, a longtime assistant, filled in for Bill Self, who missed the entire tournament after undergoing an emergency medical procedure 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.
On the Texas bench, Terry has served as interim head coach ever since former head coach Chris Beard was suspended following an arrest Dec. 12 for a charge of assaulting a family member after a confrontation with his fiancée at their home. Like the Jayhawks, Texas played without a high-level forward in Allen, who missed all three of the Longhorns’ Big 12 tournament games after injuring his lower right leg in last week’s regular-season win over Kansas.
More:As Texas, OU get close to departure, Big 12 commissioner says, 'We're in a great place'
Kansas, Texas share high hopes for NCAA Tournament
Both teams entered the game with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament secure, but they’ll learn their fate when the NCAA selection committee releases the full brackets Sunday at 5 p.m. Kansas, the defending national champion, has a good chance at claiming the No. 1 overall seed despite Saturday's loss while Texas secured a spot on at least the No. 2 line.
If the Longhorns do grab at least a No. 2 seed, they’ll open the NCAA Tournament in rarified air. Texas has claimed 26 berths since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Longhorns have been a No. 1 seed once in 2003 and a No. 2 seed twice, in 2006 and 2008.
Regardless of where the NCAA selection committee places Texas, Terry said the Longhorns’ performance in Kansas City proved that they can compete with any team in the country.
“I think our body of work has been pretty good,” he said. “We’ve played this season with a (mindset) that every game is an NCAA Tournament game. Our guys have had an incredible run this entire season. And I think playing in the best league in the country, we made a really good case for whatever comes out.”
More:Podcast: Will Ewers elevate? Big 12 hoops tournaments, UT baseball's woes