As former Kansas great Mario Chalmers sat behind the KU bench on Saturday night, watching his old school demolish Texas 73-47, you have to wonder if he had a few thoughts.
For one: What’s happened to Texas?
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These games didn’t used to be like this, not when Chalmers was in school and Rick Barnes’ Texas program was producing lottery picks on a yearly basis. But here Chalmers was, late Saturday, his No. 15 jersey retirement ceremony over, and the Jayhawks working on their second consecutive blowout at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas had spent all week declaring that its confidence was back after a forgettable three-game odyssey in early February. If there was any doubt about those assertions, they melted away during a stretch late in the second half.
The Longhorns struggled to move the ball past halfcourt, and Kansas freshman Ben McLemore gave the Jayhawks a 68-34 lead with a 360-degree dunk.
For Kansas, it was a night of much-needed fun. A night that came just a day after the team got together and shot a choreographed “Harlem Shake” video that included KU coach Bill Self and soon went viral on the Internet. A little off-kilter? Sure, but the players say that’s what this team needed.
“I think that at one point in time,” senior Elijah Johnson said, “we were playing for everybody but ourselves. And time was passing. It was passing so fast that we weren’t realizing that we weren’t having the kind of fun we wanted to have.”
So maybe this wasn’t exactly a vintage Kansas-Texas showdown. But for KU, that didn’t matter.
“When you having fun, you don’t have to know the plays,” Johnson said. “When you’re having fun, you don’t have to know nothing. You just have to go out there and play, and that’s what we’re doing.”
For years, Texas’ trips to Allen Fieldhouse have been major events, a reason to circle the game on the schedule. Nick Collison, who was in attendance on Saturday, once earned a standing ovation from analyst Dick Vitale with a 20-20 night. And Kevin Durant once came into town like an Old West gunslinger, scoring 25 points in the first half in 2007. Even ESPN figured this game would have a little gravitas. The “GameDay” crew was in town for a broadcast from Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday morning.
Still, Kansas, 21-4 overall and 9-3 in the Big 12, needed a victory to keep pace with Oklahoma State and Kansas State in the Big 12 race. Just five days earlier, the Jayhawks had delivered a cathartic beating of K-State at Allen Fieldhouse, rebuilding their shaken confidence in the process.
“There’s not a team in America that has fun every time they go play at the same consistent level,” Self said. “You go through ruts, and you kind of lose your personality. I think we got our personality back.”
Now the Jayhawks turn their attention to a looming road test on Wednesday night.
For Kansas, that showdown may be coming at just the right time. Seniors Travis Releford and Jeff Withey finished with 15 points each, while Johnson shook off some prolonged struggles with 12 points on five-of-10 shooting.
Withey also finished with two blocks, surpassing former Texas center Chris Mihm as the Big 12’s all-time leading shot-blocker. Withey entered the night with 263 blocks, one shy of Mihm’s record of 264. Meanwhile, McLemore had 13 points and six rebounds after finishing with 30 points against K-State.
And in a year of historically bad offense, you can add this Texas performance to the list of dismal performances. Even with sophomore guard Myck Kabongo in his second game back after an NCAA-mandated, 23-game suspension, the Longhorns shot just 21.8 percent (12 of 55).
They also made just two of 21 from behind the three-point arc. At one point in the first half, the Jayhawks forced Texas into two straight 35-second shot-clock violations. That’s 70 straight seconds without a shot.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that from one of our teams,” Self said.
Even against the Topeka YMCA, this offensive output would have been egregious. Now comes Oklahoma State and a different challenge. The last time the Jayhawks saw the Cowboys, freshman Marcus Smart was doing backflips off Naismith court. That looked pretty fun, too.
“We’ll find a lot more about ourselves on Wednesday,” Self said. “That will be as hard a game as we’ve had this year, going to Stillwater and winning. Because I know that they’re jacked and excited.”