No. 8 Kansas going for outright Big 12 title against Texas
LAWRENCE, Kan. — With history secured, Kansas wants to completely certify its rightful place.
With a share of the Big 12 championship guaranteed, the sixth-ranked Jayhawks (23-6, 12-4 Big 12) would prefer to win the crown outright. They have a chance to do just that Monday against Texas (17-12, 7-9) in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas is coming off a 74-72 victory at Texas Tech, which ensured the Jayhawks a 14th consecutive title, snapping a tie with UCLA (1967-79) for the longest streak of conference championships in college basketball history.
Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham took over against Texas Tech down the stretch and Kansas carries a four-game winning streak into the Texas matchup.
“I’m excited, happy, all of the above, just for the team,” Graham said. “At the end of the game, I just wanted to win so bad that I just put my heart all-out into the game, and thank God that shots fell.”
Among those shots was a contorted drive to the hoop with 32 seconds left that keyed a five-point swing after Texas Tech had forged the game’s only tie. Of his game-high 26 points, 18 came in the last 14 minutes, when Graham may have cemented himself as the top player in a conference loaded with outstanding point guards, including Oklahoma freshman Trae Young.
“There is no doubt, no doubt, he’s Big 12 player of the year,” said Bill Self, the Kansas coach who has directed the conference title run and never been swept by a Big 12 rival. “You have to put an emphasis on winning. If he doesn’t win it, we’re going to get him the trophy anyway.”
No question, Graham is the Jayhawks’ most valuable contributor. The Texas Tech win marked the 12th time in the last 16 games he played 40 minutes. He has led Kansas in scoring 10 times and averages 17.9 points and 7.1 assists.
Texas is coming off a 65-64 victory Saturday over Oklahoma State behind a driving hoop from junior guard Kerwin Roach with 1.2 seconds remaining. Freshman center Mohamed Bamba, who averages a double-double and leads the Big 12 in rebounds and blocked shots, missed the second half after injuring his left toe and was limited to two points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
Junior guard Eric Davis Jr. also sat out after he was implicated for taking an improper payment from a sports agency as part of an FBI probe into illegalities in college basketball. The Longhorns were already without starting guard Andrew Jones, who began treatments for leukemia in January.
“Our guys did a good job of staying together down the stretch,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said of the short-handed performance. “Obviously, we were down a few guys. We had some different lineups in there that we haven’t played a lot this year. We were able to make one more play.”
More key plays leading to more wins will be needed for Texas to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns failed to make the NCAA field last season after advancing to the tournament in 2016, Smart’s first season as coach. Texas made 16 appearances in 17 seasons under previous coach Rick Barnes.