Sir’Jabari Rice and No. 9 Texas smother No. 3 Kansas 75-59
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kansas had already won the Big 12 championship by the time the Jayhawks made their last trip of the season to Texas.
The Longhorns sent them home with the message that the league tournament was going to be as intense as the regular season.
Sir’Jabari Rice scored 23 points and a defensive choke effort propelled No. 9 Texas to a 75–59 win over No. 3 Kansas on Saturday, giving the Longhorns a second-place finish in the Big 12.
Texas started the day with a three-way tie for second place, but a win and loss for Kansas State and Baylor left the Longhorns alone. A loss at TCU four days earlier had robbed Texas of a chance at a share of the championship.
“We wanted confidence going into the postseason,” Rice said. “We needed to focus and refocus (after the losses).”
Tyrese Hunter converted 9 of 10 free throws and scored 20 points in favor of the Longhorns (23-8, 12-6).
Big 12 scoring and rebounding leader Jalen Wilson led Kansas (25–6, 13–5) with 23 points and 10 boards as the Jayhawks’ seven-game winning streak ended.
Texas surrounded Kansas with a defensive effort that frustrated Wilson and the Jayhawks from the start.
Kansas scored just 12 points in the first 12 minutes and missed nine of 12 three-point attempts in the half. Wilson, who had only two points when Kansas beat Texas on February 6, struggled to find open shots or even open passes.
At the end of the half, Hunter hit back-to-back deep three-pointers, and by half-time Texas had a 32–24 lead.
The Longhorns quickly extended their lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Dylan Disu scored the first five points after the break, and Rice’s three-pointer extended the lead to 15.
Kansas got to eight when Grady Dick hit back-to-back threes, his first baskets of the game, before Texas responded with six straight. Rice then scored seven straight points, including a three-pointer from left corner, and Texas led 68–52 with 3:30 to play.
Rice scored his 23 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
“Texas has turned up. Defensively, they forced us to play outside of our comfort zone,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “We weren’t good. Today we got what we deserved.”
Kansas: The Big 12 champions won what many consider the toughest league in the nation and are still in contention for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The reigning national champions advance to the Big 12 after winning nine of their last 12.
“Our season is really just getting started,” Wilson said. “We play a lot, trying to take first place in the overall standings. You can’t go too high after winning a conference, and you can’t go too low after such a loss.”
Texas: Interim coach Rodney Terry’s future with the program will likely always depend on the Longhorns’ postseason success. He could ease that pressure if Texas won even a fraction of the first conference title in 15 years. But finishing second with an emphatic victory over the league champion is better than many could have predicted when Texas fired coach Chris Beard midway through the season.
“My message is to remain a hungry team,” Terry said. “I think we have a team second to none.”
Saturday was a senior day farewell for five players from Texas. The Longhorns have one of the oldest rosters in college basketball.
Marcus Carr is in its sixth season, and Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop and Rice are in their fifth year. Dylan Disu has completed his fourth season. They averaged 54 points and 19 rebounds per game.
Texas went 16-1 at the Moody Center, the new arena that replaced the 45-year-old Erwin Center. One of the big changes was the move of the student section behind the team benches.
“We created a home court (advantage) in Texas basketball. People know that if they enter Moody, it will be difficult for them to win,” Terry said. “The environment we have created here, our guys enjoy playing here.”
The Big 12 kicks off Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas will be the No. 1 seed. Texas will be No. 2.
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