LAWRENCE, Kan. — With Kansas fielding a young team, not everything sinks in quite the way Bill Self would like.
Defense, in particular, has troubled the Kansas coach.
On Saturday, however, the Jayhawks dug in during the first half and took out Texas by establishing a 28-point lead at the break before winning 85-54 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Our guys, I talk about them as not being as tough as I want them to be, and they’re not,” said Self, “but they’re prideful.”
After suffering an 81-69 loss at Texas to begin the month of February, Kansas came out with a vengeance.
Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points and keyed an 18-0 first-half run that began the breakaway. In the first matchup, Wiggins scored just seven points.
“It’s always frustrating when you don’t hit shots, but those are shots I usually make,” Wiggins said. “I was fired up for this game.”
With the victory, Kansas (21-6) gained a three-game lead in the conference chase by improving to 12-2 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks can clinch at least a share of the Big 12 championship, its 10th straight, with a home win Monday against Oklahoma.
The loss was the third in five games for No. 19 Texas (20-7, 9-5 Big 12) following a seven-game win streak. The defeats, all on the road, were all lopsided, by 17 points to Kansas State, nine points to Iowa State and 31 points to Kansas.
“That’s what’s most disappointing, we haven’t responded on the road the way we need to,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “It goes back to efficiency; it goes back to mental toughness. … They didn’t do anything differently than we thought they’d do. We just lost confidence and it snowballed.”
After getting outrebounded in the first meeting, the Jayhawks established a 39-37 advantage on the boards in the rematch behind freshman center Joel Embiid, who recorded 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocks.
“Coming into this game, I had a different mindset,” Embiid said. “I did what coach said, ‘Just show them what you can do.”‘
The winning margin exceeded the Jayhawks’ previous conference best, a 30-point home win against TCU a week earlier.
Kansas entered with the best field goal percentage (.503) in the nation and exceeded that by going 31 of 60, a .517 clip.
Junior guard Naadir Tharpe added a season-high seven assists as Kansas recorded 19 assists against a season-low seven turnovers. Freshman guard Frank Mason came off the bench to add 14 points.
“It’s one of the better performances we’ve had in a half,” Self said of the early knockout. “On both ends that was about as consistently good as any point this year. Tonight I thought our defense led to our offense, better than it has in awhile.”
Forward Jonathan Holmes led Texas with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Center Cameron Ridley was the only other Longhorn to score in double figures with 11. Forward Prince Ibeh led Texas with eight rebounds but fouled out after playing just 16 minutes. The Longhorns shot 34.4 percent, going 21 of 61.
Texas was attempting to pull off a rare series sweep of Kansas in Big 12 play, a feat that had not been achieved against the Jayhawks since a 2001 title run by Iowa State.
The Longhorns dominated the Jayhawks in the first meeting, an 81-69 win at Texas that came after a 7-0 conference start by Kansas.
The Jayhawks sought revenge immediately Saturday.
They closed the first half with a 36-10 flurry, including a string of 18 unanswered points, and enjoyed a 46-18 bulge at halftime.
Earlier in the week, Self said that his team had to improve defensively to make a strong postseason push. The Jayhawks then came out and held the Longhorns to 20.7 percent shooting in the first half, including a scoreless stretch of eight-plus minutes.
Embiid led the defensive surge with five blocks and also posted nine points and six rebounds. Offensively, Wiggins paced the breakaway, scoring all 15 of his first-half points in the first 12 minutes. Guard Frank Mason came off the bench and added nine points on 4-for-4 shooting as the Jayhawks shot 63 percent in the half.
Holmes led Texas with
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