Collected semi-coherent ramblings after Saturday’s Kansas-Texas game.
What’s the old saying, there are two sports in Texas: football and spring football? That can be applied to about any level or school in Texas. High school, the University of Texas or Texas A&M. That may be changing a little, with the emergence of Texas over the past 7-8 years and the more recent ascent of A&M in basketball. It’s not fair, in a way, that Texas fans got to watch Vince Young for three years and now get to watch Kevin Durant. There ought to be a law or something. Anyway, I kept thinking Saturday, during the most excellent Texas-Kansas game, that I hope Texas fans have enjoyed this season. They’ve been lucky to see their team involved in three of the best games played this year: the triple-OT game at Oklahoma State, the double OT game against A&M last week, and then Saturday’s game. Of course, they’ve gone 1-2 in those three games, so they might not fully appreciate the qualities of those games. But, since most UT fans are far more concerned with football, this was probably the perfect season for them: three insanely entertaining games, nearly sneaking into the Big 12 title, and a team that is a serious threat to go deeeeep into the NCAA tournament.
What to say about Saturday’s game? Ironically, Friday night I had a dream about the Arizona-Kansas game in Allen Fieldhouse back in 2003. In that game, KU roared out to a nearly 30 point lead in the first half, with every shot they threw up going in. Over the last five minutes of the first half, though, and then through the second half, KU’s shots started clanging off of the rim, and Salim Stoudamire keyed a huge UA comeback that resulted in a 20 point win. A 50 point swing between two top ten teams. As Texas seemed to be hitting every shot, no matter how well guarded, in the first half Saturday, I kept thinking of that dream, and hoping the tide would change. As good as Arizona was four years ago, Texas was even better in the first half. At times, it seemed the ball was barely getting into their shooters’ hands before they were swishing another three.
This was my first chance to watch kevin Durant for an entire game. Wow. Through all my glimpses of him this year, as good as he was, he was never as good as he was in the first half Saturday. That was about as effortless of a 25-point outburst as I’ve ever seen. Even with perhaps the best person in the country to guard him getting in his face -Julian Wright’s length, while not as crazy as Durant’s, is well-suited for at least disrupting Kevin a little – KD was tossing in 25 footers like Larry Bird after practice. Julian might as well not have been there for all the disdain Durant showed his defense. As shot-after-shot dropped, I kept thinking, “He can’t shoot like this all day.”
What was most unreal about the first half was that KU actually played a damn good half of basketball. Scored 42 points. Shot 50% from the field. Owned the boards. And yet they were down 12. As Dave Armstrong would say, wow.
The true revelation of the game, though, was Texas point guard DJ Augustin. That kid is pretty amazing, too. Texas is really turning into point guard U., as he seems like the evolutionary next step from TJ Ford and Daniel Gibson. Perhaps not as fast as those guys, but certainly a better shooter than TJ and a deeper shooter than Gibson. Not the defensive specialist TJ was, but his size allows him to get inside and do some damage. In short, he looks like a guy who’s ready for the NBA today, with no questions. TJ has turned himself into a decent NBA player, but his size will always hold him back. I’m not sure what Gibson is doing. Augustin looks like he could be a star. Go pro, DJ!
Lost in the brilliance of Durant was the exceptional job of adjusting and persevering that KU did to get back into the game and take a lead. Excellent adjustments on Durant, keeping him from getting the ball with clean looks, forcing him to drive into traffic. I kept wondering why he didn’t go post up, or why they didn’t try to set screens and have him cut to the basket. I guess when you shoot that well in the first half, it’s tough to go back to doing the dirty work needed to score in other ways.
The law of averages turning an 11-14 three point effort in the first half into a 3-16 one in the second, with two of those three coming in the last minute, helped as well. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson were outstanding from deep, shooting KU right back into the game in the first four minutes of the second half. All the inside guys played well: when was the last time KU looked dominant inside against Texas? I thought KU was supposed to be the soft team and Texas the squad full of bruisers.
It was interesting to read the AP wire story about the game. According to it, Texas had the lead when Durant twisted his ankle and KU then went on a 24-7 run to take the lead. In fact, that 24-7 run is what wrapped around halftime, and KU was already ahead by four when he went down (they extended the lead to six on the play he slipped). When he returned to the game, KU lead by nine. So, in fact, Texas outscored KU by two points between his injury and the end of the game. But I guess it’s tough for a sports writer sitting in press row to look at the official play-by-play and get little details like that correct. (I did see the AP sent out a correction later Sunday. Didn’t stop the national view of the game being that Texas was ahead when Durant got hurt, and KU capitalized on his absence to get back into the game.)
It was a great way to end the Big 12 regular season. Both teams learned a lot about themselves going into March. KU has now faced the most unstoppable offensive force in the country, taken his best shot, adjusted and slowed him down, and turned a rout into a win. Nearly every player stepping up and making a key contribution reinforced that KU may be the best team, as in a group that plays together, in the country. Texas saw that they have to learn to play 40 minutes, actually play a little D, and not fall in love with the three. They might have the best two-man game in the country, and with Augustin and Durant’s versatility, they can play those two in nearly any style and expect to have success. Both teams have a lot to look forward to over the next five weeks, I think.
And one more thing. Is it just me, or does the Big 12 get a bad rap simply because KU, Texas, OSU, and OU have all failed to win a title when they’ve been to the Final Four since the league formed? Name a league with three teams as good as KU, Texas, and A&M. In the ACC, after UNC I have no faith in any of those schools. Virginia and Virginia Tech seem very flukey to me. The Big 10 has two, but Wisconsin isn’t likely to play at the same level they did all season with Brian Butch out. Big East? A very solid league, but not a single top tier team (Texas would run Georgetown out of the gym). Pac-10? UCLA is very good. But again, their 2-3 seeded teams just don’t match up with A&M and Texas. SEC? After Florida, it’s pretty weak this year. While the Big 12 may get much weaker after those top three teams – I think K-State and Texas Tech are both strong enough to get to the Sweet 16 given the right draw – I don’t think any league is as strong at the top. Of course, I probably just jinxed the top teams into a 1990-like washout, when KU, Mizzou, and OU, who had swapped the national #1 ranking all season, won a collective two games in the first weekend of the tournament, with all going home early. Blame me when you’re tearing up your brackets next weekend.