Jayhawks and Longhorns battle for Big 12 supremacy
(Sports Network) – The Big 12 regular season title could be decided in
Austin this weekend, as the 16th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks invade the Frank
Erwin Center to battle the seventh-ranked Texas Longhorns. The Jayhawks
are one of the youngest teams in the country, but have played like a
seasoned group, en route to an 11-2 conference mark. The team has won 10
straight entering this contest and is currently tied with the Longhorns
atop the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks continued their winning ways this
week with a 76-61 win over Baylor.
The Longhorns are also in a position to win the league title, thanks in large
part to six wins in the last seven outings, including a thrilling 65-64
decision at Kansas State on Wednesday. These two teams have split the last
four meetings, but Kansas still holds an 11-4 edge in the all-time series.
Texas is 14-1 in Austin this season, but Kansas has been red-hot on the road,
winning four straight away games and posting a 5-1 ledger on the road in
Freshman Julian Wright poured in a career-high 20 points, leading the Jayhawks
to the rather easy win over Baylor this week. Wright was a remarkable 10-of-11
from the floor. Fellow freshman Brandon Rush added 11 points, as did sophomore
Darnell Jackson. Yet another youngster, C.J. Giles (sophomore) chipped in 10
points to the cause.
Despite their youth, the Jayhawks have thrived at both ends of the court.
Offensively, the squad is netting a respectable 76.5 ppg, getting it done on
a healthy .481 shooting. Defensively, the team has really played well,
leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.363), leading to a
mere 60.2 ppg for the opposition. Rush leads all freshmen in the Big 12 in
scoring with 14.2 ppg. He is shooting .511 from the floor and even better
from behind the arc (.514, 37-of-72). He is also pacing the team on the
boards, with 6.1 caroms per outing. Mario Chalmers is another outstanding
performer from this year’s freshman class, adding 10.7 ppg. Chalmers is tied
with Russell Robinson (sophomore) for the team-lead in assists with 103
Texas’ superior frontcourt was once again the difference for the team, as
LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker had solid outings in Manhattan. Aldridge
finished with 16 points to lead the team, while Tucker recorded a double-
double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The backcourt of Daniel Gibson (13
points) and Kenton Paulino (11 points) did the rest, including four key
free-throws down the stretch by Paulino in the waning moments to earn the
victory. Despite shooting just .444 from the floor, the Longhorns held the
Wildcats to a mere .349 shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
The Longhorns’ strength down low is what separates them from most teams.
Texas holds a sizeable advantage on the glass (+10.5 rebounding margin)
and gets a lot of easy baskets underneath. The squad is averaging 77.7 ppg,
while limiting foes to a mere 59.8 ppg. In addition, the Longhorns are
allowing opponents to shoot a meager .374 from the field (third
nationally). Four of the team’s five starters are averaging double
figures, led by Tucker’s 16.3 ppg. Aldridge is right behind with 15.9 ppg,
and leads the team in rebounding (9.3 rpg), followed closely by Tucker
(9.2 rpg). Brad Buckman (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) completes perhaps the
nation’s best frontcourt. Gibson (14.1 ppg) provides enough perimeter
support to keep teams from keying on the big men.