Having finally recorded that elusive 20th win of the season, the 14th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks return to the friendly confines of the Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for a Big 12 matchup against the Texas Longhorns.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Kansas was as highly ranked as second in the nation, but three straight losses saw the team fall significantly. The Jayhawks finally ended their skein on Monday, with an 83-62 romp over nationally-ranked Kansas State. KU has now won 20 or more games in 24 straight seasons and at 8-3 in conference play, is tied with both Kansas State and Oklahoma State for first place in the Big 12.
Rick Barnes' Longhorns have long been out of the conference race, as Texas is just 11-13 overall and buried in the league standings at a mere 3-8. The Longhorns are coming off a big win, as their starting point guard Myck Kabongo finally suited up after serving a 23-game suspension. Texas outlasted the explosive Cyclones in a double-overtime affair, 89-86.
Kansas owns a 21-7 advantage in the all-time series with Texas and has won seven of the last eight meetings, and is seeking the regular-season sweep after earning a 64-59 victory in Austin back on Jan. 19.
Kabongo was one of five Longhorns to net double figures in the marathon win over Iowa State and really helped stabilize the offensive attack, finishing with 13 points and a team-high seven assists. Sheldon McClellan had a team- best 18 points in the win and could be the top benefactor of Kabongo's return. Connor Lammert and Ioannis Papapetrou added 14 points each, while Javan Felix chipped in with 12 points for Texas, which shot 50.8 percent from the floor in the game.
Texas' defensive play has been the real strength of the team, limiting foes to just 63.3 ppg, while tied for first in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.361). McClellan is the team's top offensive threat at 14.5 ppg, but has really struggled at times, shooting a mere .376 from the floor, including .278 from behind the arc. Julien Lewis adds 11.1 ppg, followed by Papapetrou and Felix with 8.4 ppg each. Just a freshman, Felix has really played well at the point in Kabongo's absence, averaging 5.4 apg.
It just so happens that the team Texas is tied with for first nationally in field-goal percentage defense is Kansas. The Jayhawks are yielding just 60.6 ppg on the season and enjoy a +6.2 rebounding margin, while ranking third nationally in blocked shots (7.0 bpg). Freshman Ben McLemore has made an instant impact, shooting .513 overall, .435 from behind the arc and averaging a team-high 16.8 ppg. Big man Jeff Withey is a perfect complement in the middle, averaging 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game. Travis Releford rounds out the team's double-digit threats at 11.8 ppg.
The Jayhawks put the Wildcats away early on, shooting .586 from the floor in the first half, leading by 18 points at the half. McLemore hit six 3-pointers and led all scorers with 30 points. Withey added a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He added five blocks on the game and became the school's all-time leader in that category (263). Kevin Young just missed his own double-double with 13 points and nine boards, while Releford tacked on 10 points.