‘A’ for effort: Texas needed this game, but Jayhawks wanted it more

Jamari Traylor's dive for a loose ball was the snapshot moment of Saturday's contest and an apt depiction of the Jayhawks' hard-fought victory.

Michael Thomas/AP

They’re running out of takers, these Jayhawks. Oklahoma? All kinds of salty, but not if you can’t handle Kansas State at home. West Virginia? Outside of Morgantown, who the expletive knows? Iowa State? Gifted enough to win anywhere, against anybody. But slow starts in Lubbock and Waco bring old doubts about Team Hoiberg back to the fore.

Texas needed this game. Period. The Longhorns needed it the way the Cyclones needed last Saturday. If you don’t handle Rock Chalk on your home court, good luck trying for a split at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks allow opponents almost 10 fewer points per game than they do anyplace else on the planet.

Draw a line through Rick Barnes’ name. Stick a fork in Bevo’s backside. KU’s 75-62 victory at Frank Erwin Center in Austin drops another challenger from the Big 12 fight card, and shoots Bill Self’s Run To 11 safely through another gauntlet.

The ‘Horns, America’s preseason vogue pick to put an end to the Jayhawks’ 10 straight league crowns, has now lost two of its first three Big 12 home tilts, in a year when protecting home court means more than ever. 

Texas needed this game.

Kansas wanted it more.

The Longhorns (14-5, 3-3 Big 12) are the giants of a smallish league, one of the few rosters that can go length for length with No. 1 Kentucky — and, indeed, did, in a 63-51 setback at Lexington on Dec. 5. But the Jayhawks (16-3, 5-1) found a way to pull off in Austin what they couldn’t against the Wildcats in Indianapolis: Scrap their way out of trouble.

Texas featured five players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller; Self’s Jayhawks, three. And yet, when it came to 50-50 opportunities, loose balls, caroms, stray passes, the visitors seemed to get a friendly paw on about 80 percent of them.

Lookin’ good! Check out our gallery of Big 12 hoops cheerleaders.

Despite a size deficit, KU matched the hosts in the rebounding department, with 37 apiece. The Jayhawks collected six steals to Texas’ one, and 13 assists to the Longhorns’ eight. KU’s bench — with freshmen Cliff Alexander (15 points, nine boards, two assists, one block) and Devonte’ Graham (two points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals) raising hell in the post and the perimeter, respectively, and zone-buster Brannen Greene dropping daggers from long range (four for five from beyond the arc, 14 points, four rebounds) — outscored Texas’ by a margin of 31-8.

And, most impressive, the Longhorns committed nine turnovers; the Jayhawks, just three. This from a crew that gave it away a whopping 15 times in Ames just the week before.

Texas needed this game.

Kansas wanted it more.

And never more than with about 5:08 left in the first half, with the visitors clinging to a 23-21 lead. KU forward Jamari Traylor had the play — make that plays — of the first half, encapsulating the entire afternoon without scoring a point.

The sequence began with the junior out of Chicago driving the lane, getting blocked by ‘Horns freshman Myles Turner, then sprinting downcourt to swat the ball away on the other end. KU went back into run-out mode, and Traylor crashed on the break to try and tip in a miss by Greene, his effort sending him past the baseline and into the laps of the fatcats sitting just past the baseline.

Only he wasn’t done.

Texas broke the other way while Traylor recovered, and after Texas guard Isaiah Taylor missed a layup and Turner whiffed on a dunk, the ball squirted free to midcourt. With two ‘Horns giving chase to retrieve it, playground-style, Traylor raced in from the opposite end and dove on the ball as if it were a live grenade, protecting it from Javan Felix with his frame as he slid like a hockey puck across the floor. The KU forward rolled it to sprinting teammate Frank Mason III on the break, who wormed his way into the lane, got the kiss off the glass and the foul. The point guard’s free-throw conversion with 4:29 to go before the break gave the visitors their largest lead of the first half, 26-21.

In those 37 seconds, the Jayhawks got three possessions, the Longhorns two, during which Traylor racked up a miss, a block and a steal, and about eight different floor burns.

Texas needed this game.

Kansas wanted it more.

Traylor (four rebounds, two steals) going horizontal was the snapshot of the contest, the viral takeaway, the cherry on top of the loudest two-point afternoon of the season. This was high-motor KU, combating a zone by coming out and playing in one.

Just like Baylor, Texas coach Rick Barnes came out trying to junk it up defensively. Only this time, the Jayhawks appeared to recognize the seams and gaps quicker, and Self recognized the need to change personnel after the hosts drained three of their first four from the floor while KU opened up zero for four. Self wisely brought Greene off the bench some four minutes into the tilt; a minute-and-a-half later, the sophomore’s trey cut the hosts’ cushion to 11-8.

By the time the dust settled, Greene was one of a half-dozen Jayhawks to drop eight points or more on Texas. Five KU players recorded at least one assist; four notched at least one steal. It takes a village to bag 11 in a row. A village and bruises.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.