Performance in Austin Promising For X

Xavier Henry (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas freshman Xavier Henry had seen his recent play scrutinized by fans and pundits alike, but his performance last night vs. Texas drew praise from his head coach. More inside...

GETTING INSIDE
   Kansas has built such a lead in the Big 12 that it could lose to its two closest competitors -- Kansas State and Texas A&M -- and still win the conference regular-season title outright.
   The top-ranked Jayhawks fairly easily dismissed the team that was supposed to be their primary competition, winning at 14th-ranked Texas on Monday, 80-68.
   That moved Kansas to 23-1 overall and 9-0 in the Big 12, three games clear of everyone else with seven regular-season games to go.
   Coach Bill Self is constantly challenging his team to get better, and the play of freshman guard Xavier Henry was encouraging against Texas.
   He entered the game hitting just 29.4 percent of his shots in eight conference games and a mere 26.8 percent (11-of-41) from 3-point range. Against the Longhorns, Henry made 6 of 13 shots for 15 points, although he was only 1-of-4 from behind the arc. What he did do was play within the offense and avoid even a single turnover.
   "I thought Xavier played the best game he's played in league play by far," Self said.
   Said Henry: "I've been practicing hard lately. I've been making sure I get my shots in after practice. I knew eventually they would fall. It's just they weren't falling at that time."
   It was Henry's highest-scoring game since he scored 15 against Temple on Jan. 2. He had gone five consecutive games with single-digit points and Kansas had a couple of close calls in that time.
   But, mostly, the Jayhawks keep rolling along and next will play host to Iowa State on Saturday. Kansas won at Iowa State 84-61 on Jan. 23, holding star forward Craig Brackins to 13 points and one rebound.
   KANSAS 80, TEXAS 68: The Jayhawks used a stunning 22-0 run in the first half to take control. Kansas built the lead to 19 with nine minutes to go, which was a big enough cushion to hang on as Texas cut the lead to 64-56 with 3:38 left.
   Kansas made 12-of-12 free throws down the stretch and wasn't seriously threatened.
   Forward Marcus Morris, who had 18 points, led Kansas' balanced scoring. The Jayhawks had a rebounding edge of 45-34 and held the Longhorns to 37.3-percent shooting.

NOTES, QUOTES
   --With so much attention thrust on a midseason matchup at Texas, no one expected Kansas to struggle 48 hours earlier.
   "Some of them didn't even know we played," senior guard Sherron Collins said of the Feb. 6 matchup against Nebraska. "Most people were just, 'Good luck Monday.' I'm like, 'Yo, we've got a game.'"
   Turned out, the game between the first- and last-place teams in the Big 12 was much closer than expected. Nebraska even led by four points inside the 16-minute mark of the second half. But the third timeout used by Kansas coach Bill Self finally lit a fire in the Jayhawks, who used a 29-5 flurry to seal a 75-64 victory.
   Self blamed some of the lackluster performance on fatigue, some of which carried over from the emotional victory at Kansas State. Then, with the much hyped visit to Texas on Feb. 8 looming, the Jayhawks looked ahead themselves.
   "This was one of those games where, let's get through this game so we can get to that game," Self confirmed.
   --It may be a bit disconcerting when G Sherron Collins gets chippy with an opponent, particularly one from last-place Nebraska. But the Huskers' Sek Henry suggested he "contained" Collins in previous matchups and it inspired Kansas' senior leader. Collins jawed at Henry in pregame warmups, throughout the game, and even in the postgame handshake line. "I asked him, 'How many points did you catch today?' He replied, 'It's all love.' He didn't want to say nothing. I got the best of him," said Collins, who is fiery enough without agitating.
   --NCAA officials recognized former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick as the first recipient of the NCAA administrator's sportsmanship award. Frederick's widow, Margey, accepted the honor at halftime of the Nebraska game. The award will be named after Frederick.
   --The win against Nebraska was the 15th straight for Kansas and boosted its home win streak to 55, the longest in the country.
   ON THE SPOT: Kansas is pretty much playing for the No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed -- the Big 12 is all but wrapped up. Can the Jayhawks retain their edge? Coach Bill Self used only three players off his deep bench at Texas, which is OK for a big game. But there are regular-season games coming up when it might serve him well to call lots of different numbers to get his backup big men ready for action in case of foul trouble in the NCAA Tournament.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every year that I've been here, coach (Bill) Self writes numbers on the board and says, 'We're going to play great X amount of games. We're going to play OK X amount of games. And then we're going to play terrible X amount of games. Those games you play all right to bad, you've got to find a way to win. That's kind of what we're doing right now." -- Kansas C Cole Aldrich.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
   SEASON RECAP: Kansas glided through the first half of the Big 12 schedule undefeated to establish a three-game advantage in the loss column over two teams tied for second, Kansas State and Texas A&M. At times the Jayhawks struggle. Defensively, they find it hard to guard the 3-point arc. Offensively they don't always click in the half-court. But enough talent and toughness exists to pull out close outcomes.
   PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Marcus Morris, C Cole Aldrich, G Xavier Henry, G Brady Morningstar, G Sherron Collins. Key Subs -- G Tyshawn Taylor, F Markieff Morris, G Tyrel Reed, F Thomas Robinson, C Jeff Withey.
   GAME REVIEW:
   Kansas 81, Kansas State 79 (OT)
   Kansas 72, Colorado 66 (OT)
   Kansas 75, Nebraska 64
   Kansas 80, Texas 68
   GAME PREVIEW:
   vs. Iowa State, Saturday, Feb. 13
   at Texas A&M, Monday, Feb. 15
   vs. Colorado, Saturday, Feb. 20
   vs. Oklahoma, Monday, Feb. 22
   IN FOCUS: Now that the Texas game is out of the way (and wasn't that tough), the Jayhawks must avoid a letdown against Iowa State with a more difficult game against A&M looming two days later.
   ROSTER REPORT:
   --G Sherron Collins had an off shooting night against Texas, going 3-of-13 from the field. He wasn't alone, as C Cole Aldrich went 2 of 10 from the field. "I would have never thought we could come to Texas and win and have our two best players go 5-of-23," coach Bill Self said.
   --F Marcus Morris had 18 points at Texas and has scored in double figures in all nine Big 12 games. Morris, who entered the game leading the league with 58.9 percent shooting in conference games, made 7-of-10 shots vs. the Longhorns.
   --F Markieff Morris, who had been averaging 4.0 rebounds in conference games, pulled down nine boards in 19 minutes at Texas.

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