The loudest, heartiest cheers of the night were for Thomas Robinson, even though five of his Kansas teammates scored more points.
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Everybody must have been thinking about how they felt on that sad afternoon of Jan. 22, the last time the Jayhawks played Texas. The night before, Robinson’s mother had died unexpectedly. Both grandparents had died a few weeks before that, leaving him and his seven-year-old sister virtually alone in the world.
Coaches and players had been up almost all night comforting the grieving sophomore forward and seemed visibly fatigued, physically and emotionally.
But this time, Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus Morris sparked a quick start and the second-ranked Jayhawks raced past the tenth-ranked Longhorns 85-73 in the Big 12 title game, avenging that melancholy January loss that snapped their 69-game home winning streak.
Robinson, a 6-9 reserve forward, had 10 points and nine rebounds and drew thunderous cheers from the partisan crowd every time he put the ball through the hoop.
”I’d take nothing away from (Texas). I’m not using it as an excuse,” said Robinson. ”But we weren’t at full speed (in the first game). We played them at full strength today. We definitely felt we had something to prove.”
Taylor had a season-high 20 points. Marcus Morris, who stood next to Robinson during the national anthem on Jan. 22 and wept, had 17 points. Markieff Morris had 14. The Jayhawks (32-2) built a big early lead and never let second-seeded Texas (27-7) closer than eight.
”Since the loss, we’ve been talking about that we really wanted another shot at them, because a lot of people had been saying that they were the best team in the Big 12,” said Marcus Morris. ”I’m not saying that the first game was a fluke. But we weren’t at full strength.”
Texas, which lost a two-game lead to Kansas in the regular-season race, fell to 0-6 in Big 12 championship games.
”We did want to get Texas, obviously,” said Kansas coach Bill Self.
The Longhorns chipped a 48-33 halftime deficit to 60-52 with about 8 minutes left, taking advantage while Marcus and Markieff Morris sat on the bench with three fouls.
But after Taylor and J’Covan Brown swapped 3-pointers, Tyrel Reed hit an uncontested 3 and rebounded a Texas miss, leading to Markieff Morris’ tip-in for a 68-55 lead. A moment later, Reed’s steal led to Markieff Morris’ free throw.
Jordan Hamilton had 21 points for second-seeded Texas, which was weakened when freshman Tristan Thompson got in early foul trouble.
While Kansas never tried to use Lisa Robinson’s death as an excuse for its first home loss in almost four years, a pall hung over Allen Fieldhouse that afternoon.
After that game, Texas coach Rick Barnes opened his news conference expressing support and condolences for Robinson. But he wasn’t sure that loss had given Kansas extra incentive on Saturday.
”I do think that was a difficult time for Kansas,” he said. ”I could tell Bill had a tough night. But again, I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. I’m sure that if you ask them, different guys will say it.”
It was the fourth time the Jayhawks beat Texas in the Big 12 title game and wrapped up a nearly certain No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
”In the last game, our attention was somewhere else,” said Taylor, who appears to have won back his starting job at point guard. ”We knew we had a game the next day, but there was so much more important stuff going on. Our focus for that game kind of dropped a little bit. We were fully focused for this game. We were ready.”
The Morris twins were a collective 5 for 6 in the opening minutes before Taylor’s steal keyed a 10-2 run that left the Jayhawks with a 27-15 lead and triggered a roar from the crowd.
J’Covan Brown’s 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 71-63 with about 5 minutes left, but the Jayhawks answered with Morningstar’s breakaway bank shot, Robinson’s tip-in and two buckets by Marcus Morris.
Morningstar had 13 points and Reed had 11 as the Jayhawks, the regular-season Big 12 champions the past seven years in a row, won their eighth conference tournament title in 15 seasons.
Brown had 17 points and Cory Joseph 14 for Texas, which shot only 41 percent while the Jayhawks hit 57 percent.
”Give credit to Kansas. They came in and played hard,” said Hamilton. ”We just had to execute and listen to what coach said. At the end, we kind of melted down as far as running our plays.”