After trailing by as many as 11 and struggling to find a rhythm all afternoon against the Texas Longhorns, the Kansas Jayhawks surged down the stretch and reminded the college basketball community why they are the No. 4 team in the country.
On an afternoon in which the offense wasn't working for Bill Self's team, the defense stepped up down the stretch, creating opportunities in transition and allowing Kansas (16-1, 4-0 Big 12) to grab a 64-59 win on the road in Austin, Texas.
Texas (8-9, 0-4) has stayed close in almost all of its losses this season and has shown flashes of why it can be a dangerous team in the Dance. The Longhorns also showed why it's been a rough season for coach Rick Barnes, faltering down the stretch and failing to maintain an early lead.
Kansas' Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore led the charge for the Jayhawks. Withey had another stat-stuffing game, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. Freshman McLemore continued to impress both college basketball panels and NBA scouts, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and a slew of plays both above the rim and in transition.
The pair helped overcome 15 KU turnovers and a brutal showing by Elijah Johnson, who finished with just six points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Texas jumped out to an early lead and took that momentum into halftime, but Kansas' defense stiffened down the stretch as Texas' halfcourt game petered out in the final five minutes.
Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Jonathan Holmes led the charge for the Longhorns. McClellan, who finished with 18 points off the bench, had a chance to tie the game with a late three, but it came up short. Lewis and Holmes finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Kansas continues to win games that championship-caliber teams do, but it has also not been able to come up with a signature, statement win while playing well in both halves. Self has a lot of work to do to turn this Kansas squad into a Final Four contender.
Seth Davis of CBS Sports gets us underway with Twitter reaction, as he recognized how poorly the offense has been for Kansas of late:
To say Kansas's offense is bad would be an upgrade. It has been nonexistent.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 19, 2013
Despite being down for most of the game, YNN Sports' Mike Berman noted why the Kansas faithful weren't sweating down the stretch:
Kansas doesn't get scared on the road.It's a hallmark of a Bill Self-coached team.— Mike Berman (@MikeBermanYNN) January 19, 2013
ESPN Dallas' Ian Fitzsimmons saw the writing on the wall when Holmes fouled out:
Holmes fouls out -helluva 2nd half. Don't see Texas winning the last two minutes without him.— Ian Fitzsimmons (@Ianfitzespn) January 19, 2013
ESPN's Andy Katz needed a little bit of patience, but his prediction of a Kansas win came true on Saturday:
Well, I was high on Kansas for a reason. KUstorming back past Texas. Sorry @mbretosespn. So much for your question about UT.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) January 19, 2013
ESPN's College Basketball on Twitter had the most appropriate response to the game and will therefore end our Twitter reaction on the day:
#Kansas ESCAPE'S with a win in Austin.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 19, 2013
Kansas has experience in the frontcourt and one of the best coaches in the country. Young at the guard position, it is relying heavily on Johnson and McLemore in the half-court game, and the production just hasn't been there yet.
The Jayhawks will now prepare for a showdown with No. 16 and in-state rival Kansas State on Tuesday. They won't be able to duplicate Saturday's success with the kind of first half they put up against Texas, so expect Kansas to come out firing against the Wildcats.
For Texas, an 0-4 start is certainly a step in the wrong direction, but this young team continues to show flashes of being a sneaky contender. Fortunately, there's plenty of time to turn things around as these freshman and sophomores continue to grow together.
It was a wild one in Texas, but Kansas remains on track to win the conference. Self and Co. have work to do, but Kansas has athletes and a scheme that are unrivaled so far in Big 12 play.