Kansas knows what it’s like to play Texas on the road a few days after staking claim to at least a share of the Big 12 basketball title.
“Last year at this time we were in the same position,” KU senior forward Landen Lucas recalled.
The 2015-16 Jayhawks defeated Texas Tech, 67-58, on Feb. 27, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse in a game that clinched a tie for the program’s 12th straight regular-season crown with two games still to play. The Jayhawks followed that performance with an 86-56 victory over the Longhorns on Feb. 29 at Frank Erwin Center — a resounding 30-point win that wrapped up an undisputed league championship.
“We went to Texas and had a great game. We went down there and had fun,” Lucas said. “Hopefully we will have a free mind the rest of the year and build some momentum going into the postseason.”
The Jayhawks (25-3, 13-2 Big 12), who assured themselves a tie for their 13th consecutive league title with an 87-68 victory Wednesday at home against TCU, for a second straight year can eliminate their closest competitors — five-loss teams Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia — with a victory at Texas (10-18, 4-11). Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. on Saturday at Erwin Center with a live telecast on ESPN.
“This is really when it gets fun,” Lucas said. “It’s what you play so hard through the conference for and preseason. It’s to set yourself up for this position and look forward to the tournament.”
A Kansas victory over Texas would give the Jayhawks the undisputed title no matter what happens in Saturday’s Baylor-Iowa State game in Ames and West Virginia-TCU contest in Fort Worth.
The ninth-place Longhorns, who have lost four consecutive games, fell to Kansas 79-67 on Jan. 21 at Allen Fieldhouse. KU led by four points (53-49) with 14:13 left, six points (59-53) with 10:11 left and seven points (71-64) at 3:31.
Lucas grabbed 14 rebounds while scoring two points in 31 minutes in the January victory over the Longhorns. His counterpart, Texas freshman big man Jarrett Allen, scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in 34 minutes.
The 19 rebounds were the most against Kansas by an opposing player since Iowa State’s Jackson Vroman grabbed 19 boards on Feb. 21, 2004.
Allen, a 6-11, 235-pound McDonald’s All-American who considered Kansas in recruiting, was just three rebounds shy of tying Iowa State’s Chuck Duncan (22 in 1995) for most rebounds against KU in a conference game.
“He was the best player in the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Allen. “Certainly we’ve got to do a better job on him.”
It would help if Kansas sophomore forward Carlton Bragg built on his career-high tying 15-point outing (seven rebounds, three blocks) against TCU on Wednesday. The 6-10, 240-pound Bragg scored eight points and grabbed two rebounds in the first meeting versus the Longhorns.
“I’ve got to build on it, take little steps,” said Bragg, who entered the TCU game with 10 points, six rebounds and one block combined in his previous four games. “I’ve got to practice even harder, work even harder because we’ve got bigger things we need to accomplish.”
Of possibly becoming a rim protector down the stretch and in the postseason, Bragg said: “I think I can do that in little spurts, just bring energy to the team, make the little plays.”
Another former Kansas recruit, 6-4 freshman Andrew Jones, scored 15 points with five rebounds and five assists for Texas in the first meeting, while Eric Davis, 6-3 sophomore who also had considered KU, had 12 points and three steals.
“Texas was good against us the first time,” Self said. “Jarrett Allen played unbelievable. Playing on the road is always a challenge. We totally respect Shaka (Smart, second year Texas coach) and his staff and their players. We think they have good players obviously. They are just young. We know we are going to have to be good to win. We think the game will come down to the last few possessions. It seems every game does in our league.”
Ten of Kansas’ 15 Big 12 games have been decided by six points or less, including each of its previous seven contests prior to Wednesday. All seven of Texas’ home league games have been decided by four points or less.
“That should motivate you right there, just the fact you have a team (coming to Austin) that’s one of the best teams in the country, a team that once again has tied for the Big 12 championship,” Smart said of the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks.
“I think if you look at it from a broader perspective as a basketball player, games like these and opponents like these are why you come to college to play big-time basketball. It’s important for us to look at it as another opportunity. Obviously it’s a big-time challenge as well, but that’s why you play the game. I know as a coaching staff we are really excited about seeing what our guys can do and seeing how our guys can grow from the last time we played them.”
Kansas will return home for Monday’s Senior Night game against Oklahoma. It will be the final home game for seniors Lucas, Frank Mason and Tyler Self.