Published March 04, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Rick Barnes remembers playing a game against North Carolina State in New Jersey early in the season, and he looked in the stands and could have counted the number of fans.
He told his team at the time that a win in November counts the same as one in March.
It couldn't ring more true now.
Despite getting 33 points from star guard J'Covan Brown, the Longhorns were unable to contain Thomas Robinson and No. 3 Kansas in a 73-63 loss Saturday night. It left the Longhorns at 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12 — and squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
"I always believed it's your body of work," Barnes said. "We've got a conference tournament where there's an automatic bid. I also have confidence in our league — if we're the second-best league in the country, that's where we are, there's no reason we shouldn't have six teams in."
Texas will be the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament, matched up with third-seeded Iowa State in the quarterfinals in Kansas City on Thursday night.
"Do we have to win another game?" Barnes responded, when pressed on the NCAA tournament. "I don't want to win just one. I want to win again and again."
It won't be easy.
The Longhorns will likely be without Alexis Wangmene, a senior forward who was hurt early in the second half. Wangmene landed awkwardly on his left wrist and was helped to the locker room.
Without him guarding Robinson, the Jayhawks' star forward poured in 18 of his 25 points in the second half. He also had 14 rebounds in his likely Allen Fieldhouse finale, while senior guard Tyshawn Taylor had 22 points for the regular-season Big 12 champs.
Taylor also had four assists and four rebounds in his last home game. The guard from Hoboken, N.J., was honored prior to the tip along with fellow seniors Connor Teahan and Jordan Juenemann.
All three of them were in the Jayhawks' starting lineup along with Robinson, a junior forward who is expected to be chosen highly in the NBA draft this summer.
"This is the last home game. It's not the last game," Taylor said. "I think we all got that understood. Just try to keep it rolling, man, try to do something special."
Kansas and Texas have waged their share of memorable games in recent years — four of the past six seasons they've met in the conference tournament title game, and it was Texas that ruined the Jayhawks' 69-game home winning streak last season.
In this one, they spent most of the first half trying to wake up.
The Jayhawks, who wrapped up the outright conference title Monday night, used an 8-0 run just before the break to establish some breathing room. But the Longhorns still managed to stay within 26-21 when Clint Chapman scored on a put-back with 1.3 seconds left in the half.
Brown had hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, briefly drawing Texas within two, when the complexion of the game changed suddenly.
The Jayhawks came down court and ran their offense to perfection, getting Robinson an open look under the basket. Just before he went up for an easy dunk, the Longhorns' Alexis Wangmene collapsed in a heap under the basket, clutching his left wrist and his face contorted in pain.
"The defensive presence he brings was noticeably missed," Texas forward Clint Chapman said.
Wangmene had held Robinson to seven points on 3-for-10 shooting in the first half.
Without him, the Longhorns had no answer for the big guy inside.
Robinson scored four straight baskets for Kansas later in the second half, on one of them bringing the ball up court and popping a jumper from the elbow for a 43-32 lead.
"I told him after the game, if I had a vote, he'd be my vote for player of the year," Barnes said. "Just the way he's carried himself, playing against him — he's terrific."
Brown did his best to shoot Texas back into the game, unfurling a silky 3-point shot whenever he got an open look, taking it off the dribble when he was closely guarded.
He simply didn't have any help.
The Longhorns wound up shooting 38 percent from the field and went 3 for 17 from beyond the 3-point line — Sheldon McClellan was the only player other than Brown to hit from deep.
"I felt we were right there in the beginning," Brown said. "In the second half we just made some mistakes to break the lead open (for Kansas)."
Kansas stretched the lead to 60-46 when Travis Releford got an alley-oop layup to go off a feed from Taylor with 6:22 left in the game. The lead never reached single digits the rest of the way as the Jayhawks won their 28th consecutive home finale.
Robinson, Taylor and Teahan all received curtain calls with 28.3 seconds left. Juenemann checked out of the game a few seconds later to a standing ovation.
"It's been fun competing against them," Barnes said. "We just didn't have an answer tonight."