If they had forgotten the feeling — the night of shock in a small coliseum in North Texas — the Kansas Jayhawks received a gentle reminder on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
They were huddled together, with 11:10 left in the first half against Texas Christian. Kansas had scored 18 points, a cannon-fire run to start the first half. And now, there was a media timeout. KU coach Bill Self looked at his players.
“We were in the huddle,” KU senior Kevin Young said, “and coach was like, ‘Hey guys, look at the scoreboard, we scored five more points in the first half than we did last time we played these guys.’ ”
Yes, some reminders were gentler than others. For days, the Jayhawks had been reminded of The TCU Upset, that surreal and humiliating night in Fort Worth, Texas, when Kansas was held to 13 points in the first half before falling in a conference loss of historic proportions. The highlights went national. The analysts and talking head chimed in: Biggest upset of the last three decades? Why not?
So while the Jayhawks played it cool in the days leading up to Saturday’s rematch, the old film clips left Kansas’ players burning inside.
“They came out and they kind of hit us in the mouth over there,” KU senior center Jeff Withey said.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks were ready from the jump, parlaying a dominating first half into a 74-48 victory on a day of anniversaries at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas (23-4 and 11-3 in the Big 12) stayed tied atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas State, and set up what could be a kingmaker’s matchup at Iowa State on Monday night.
“We played as a team tonight,” said freshman guard Ben McLemore, who finished with 14 points. “We got a lot of stops with each other. And down (in Fort Worth), it just seemed like we were moving fast, and we didn’t have that Kansas pace that we usually play.”
Of course, the Jayhawks had other reasons to be motivated on Saturday — and not just the still-cloudy Big 12 race. More than 200 former members of the KU program were in the building to celebrate the 115th anniversary of Kansas basketball and the 25th anniversary of the 1988 NCAA Title team.
After the TCU loss, Young said the Jayhawks had embarrassed the program. And Self uttered his now-famous statement that a KU team hadn’t played that bad since James Naismith coached against the Topeka YMCA.
“We had to let these guys know that it wasn’t gonna be the same game as last time,” Young said.
Withey, who had just six shot attempts in the first loss to TCU, finished with 18 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes. Freshman Perry Ellis added 12 points off the bench, his largest total since scoring 12 against Washington State on Nov. 19.
“I think they were looking forward to playing a team that beat us,” Self said, “and we’d shown them enough tape to have reminders of that.”
Consider: In the first half, TCU (10-17, 1-13) shot just four of 23 from the floor, while Kansas took a 38-9 lead. TCU’s nine first-half points were the fewest by a Kansas opponent since Cornell managed nine on Jan. 2, 1996. And TCU’s starters were zero for 14 from the floor. You can’t do much worse than that.
“The game we won down there should probably count for six wins,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said.
By the final moments of the first half, McLemore caught the ball on the deep wing and took off down the baseline. TCU sophomore Devonta Abron was waiting in the lane. But as McLemore took off, gliding toward the basket for a thunderous jam, Abron thought better of it.
He peeled off in midair, and McLemore, who would outscore TCU by himself in the first half, finished a one-handed jam that shook Allen Fieldhouse.
Somewhere in the old barn, 96-year-old Fred Bosilevac, who played at Kansas in 1937, sat in the stands and looked on. He was the oldest former Jayhawk in town to celebrate, still plenty proud of the latest Kansas team.
“That first half,” Self said, “that’s as focused and the best we’ve been as far as both ends of consistency in a long time. That was the best we’ve executed and moved the ball, and also the most active we’ve been defensively.”
In the minutes after the game, McLemore talked about his dunk and laughed. The Jayhawks could head to Iowa State with momentum. And this afternoon in Lawrence felt so much better than that night in Fort Worth.
Whatever happened during the Jayhawks’ three-game nightmare, Kansas has found its old pace. A ninth-straight Big 12 title — or at least a share — is in sight. Self will go for career victory No. 500 on Monday. And the Jayhawks have grown up at just the right time.
“I think we have,” Withey said. “I have said this all along; by losing all those, we got humbled and we’re a hungry team again.”