March 12, 2006
DALLAS (AP) - The Kansas Jayhawks considered their only loss over the last two months a bit of a fluke because they did so many things wrong. Given another chance against the Texas Longhorns, the Jayhawks showed why they think they're the best team in the Big 12.
Handling with ease the big-game pressure that rattled them in Austin two weeks ago, No. 17 Kansas was terrific outside and played great defense to beat the eighth-ranked Longhorns 80-68 Sunday in the finals of the conference tournament.
The Jayhawks (25-7) roll into the NCAA tournament having won 15 of 16 games and giddy over avenging an 80-55 loss on Feb. 25. When the rematch was set following the semifinals, several young Kansas players said they were eager to show Texas (27-6) how much they've grown up in only a few weeks - and didn't need long to prove it.
Brandon Rush, the first freshman ever named to the All-Big 12 team, was 1-for-8 with three points in the previous meeting, but opened this game with two 3-pointers. That set a tone as Kansas went on to hit a season-best 12, on 24 attempts.
Then, in the final minutes, fellow freshman Julian Wright made the big plays. The 6-foot-8 forward reached around Texas guard A.J. Abrams and poked the ball the away, then turned it into a tomahawk dunk that put Kansas ahead 67-63. With 36 seconds left, Wright iced the victory with a 360-degree dunk in the open court following a blocked 3-pointer on the other end.
Mario Chalmers, another freshman, scored 15 points and had the honor of dribbling out the clock while his teammates were already celebrating. Eager to join them, he slammed the ball down with about a second left and ran over. Soon after, Chalmers was named the tournament's most outstanding player. Wright joined him on the all-tournament team.
Senior Jeff Hawkins made his first four 3s and finished with 13 points. Sophomore Russell Robinson scored 14 points, while Rush and Wright each had 12.
Texas seemed to be hanging in the entire game, struggling to find any rhythm on offense. Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored only five points on 1-of-5 shooting and was limited to 28 minutes because of foul trouble.
P.J. Tucker, the conference's player of the year, kept the Longhorns in it with 16 points and eight rebounds, and Kenton Paulino had 19 points, including five 3-pointers.
But the scrappiness held up only so long. After a basket with 10:15 left, Texas didn't get another until a dunk by Brad Buckman with 1:00 left. The Longhorns missed seven shots and had three turnovers along the way, letting a 57-55 lead turn into an 11-point deficit.
Kansas won its first Big 12 title since taking the first three, a run that ended in 1999. The Jayhawks had only been back to the finals once, in 2002.
Texas lost for the second time in its last five games and fell to 0-3 in Big 12 tournament finals, having also lost in 2001 and 2004.
Still, the Longhorns will head into the NCAA tournament trying to follow their football and baseball teams as national champions; no school has ever held all three crowns at the same time.