Quite a Difference

Bill Self (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

No disrespect to Texas which has a roster full of talent but Phog.net explains why the Longhorns and Jayhawks are worlds apart right now.

The difference between Texas and Kansas was more than just the 12 points the scoreboard showed after the final buzzer on Monday night. In fact the difference right now is more than the mileage between Lawrence and Austin. More than just the number 13 spots that separate these two in the current ESPN/USA Today rankings.

You can delve into the box score and find a ton of reasons why Kansas dominated most of this game.

Inexplicably once again, the Horns gave up yet another huge run by an opponent. This time it was a 22-0 run to the nation's top ranked team. Something KU head coach Bill Self admitted "on the road against a team like this that doesn't happen very often." It was an all-too-familiar site for a Texas team that had recently given up huge runs to Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State to name a few. The Longhorns have to feel like they're climbing up Mount Everest.

Why did KU win for the first time in the Self era in Austin? Because for the first time in this series on enemy turf KU was by far the tougher team, and one area it showed was on the glass. For KU competing with Texas on the glass is always a goal and Kansas out-rebounded the Big 12's best rebounding team (35-34).

"I don't know if we owned it, but we did a much better job on the glass," Self said comparing to KU's 2008 loss in Austin. "It seemed like to me a lot of the second shot opportunities they got seemed like we fumbled more balls that we had two hands on and they took it from us. But we were better. We were definitely better than what we were two years ago when basically Damion outrebounded our whole team the second half."
 
The Longhorns had just six assists on 22 field goals while Kansas had 14 dimes on 26 made field goals. The Jayhawks scored 27 points on 17 Texas turnovers and KU netted 16 fast break points to just two for UT. But this one goes deeper than just numbers.
Kansas is together as a team right now. The Jayhawks are 23-1, coincidentally with the same record at the same time the 2007-08 team boasted. On the Kansas side when a player goes down multiple teammates are there to pick him up. When Cole Aldrich was called for a technical against Damion James late in the game his teammates were in his grill to offer their support. As one Phog poster pointed out today he had never seen Xavier Henry get that fired up as he yelled in Cole's face supporting his 6-11 big man after the foul was called.

But while KU is finding ways to win Texas is just trying to find itself.  The Longhorns appear lost. There is frustration brewing and it was displayed on James' face as brushed away Aldrich's attempt to apologize for the non-intentional elbow. Barnes is scratching his head and his bewilderment is permeating through his team. The Texas head coach is struggling to find the combinations that click and his rotation has once again ballooned to 12 guys.

"Texas is good. They're not playing like they're capable of playing. But that can turn over night and it will. Rick's team will be back where they should be which is as one of the best teams in the country not just in our conference," Self commented.

Meanwhile, Self has found the eight player rotation he trusts with the game on the line and has stuck to it for the most part. Are there players on the bench who deserve to be playing more? Are there players who need to get reps for the future of this team? Probably. But Self is trying to win in the present and right now there is no doubting who Self's top eight are and where he will turn with a close game on the line.

But unlike last year, he can turn to more than just Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. More guys are stepping up and making plays. It's a different player each and every night.

"That's the main part of our team we've got a lot of guys we can go to," said Marcus Morris who again led the team in scoring with 18 points.

"I would've never have thought that we'd come to Texas and win when our two best players go 5-23," said Self referring to the combined field goals for Aldrich and Collins.

Marcus is starting to earn the label Mr. Consistency, something glaringly missing from his game last season. On a regular basis the KU sophomore is not just putting up "ok" numbers; they're outstanding numbers. Marcus put up 18 points on 7-10 shooting and continues to lead the team in scoring. Monday night he earned his stripes in the toughness department too. Marcus had all KU fans holding their breath when he went to the locker room with a hand injury Monday night. It ended up being a dislocated fingers and torn tendons but Morris returned to contribute to his team's success.

If you talk to Self you can tell he's not afraid to puff out his chest and proudly praise Marcus' play.  He can't say enough about his game. He doesn't believe he's one of the best four-men in the Big 12, Self believes he's one of the "best big men in the country". Morris stock just keeps rising.

Freshman Xavier Henry's stock was plummeting according to some saying he was in a slump. The facts are the facts. He has not shot the ball well in conference play and the numbers show it. Against Texas Xavier went 1-4 from the three-point line, but did anyone notice? He was all over the glass, defended with toughness, he drove it plenty, and simply made plays scoring 15 points on 6-13 shooting to go along with five rebounds.

"I thought Xavier played the best game he's played in league play by far," said Self. He was really good. He and Marcus were by far our two best players today. He was good, Marcus was great. We used him to break the pressure down a little."

"X stepped up big today I know he's been missing a couple shots but the thing about him is he keeps shooting. We needed him to step up today," said Marcus.

Self told Henry he needed him to get on the glass in this one and like we've been saying if he started trying to get to the rim more and make plays in other areas more the numbers would come. But most importantly Xavier's infectious smile returned and you could see that playing basketball was once again fun for the McDonald's All-American.

"If you know me I smile like 24-7 anyways because I'm just blessed to be in this position but I am glad I had a good game," he said with a smile. "It's been a long time coming. I've been playing a little down. People say I've been in a slump I haven't been shooting the ball that well but tonight I just tried to play hard and work with the team a lot and it came out well so I'm happy."

As a team Kansas defended incredibly well and its first shot defense was excellent. Texas shot just 22-59 from the floor as KU played the passing angles, blocked shots, and utilized a big-to-big double team in the post that forced turnovers. Double-teaming with a purpose is the only way the big-to-big double will succeed against a talented team and Kansas did it flawlessly. One purpose of the double-team was to keep Aldrich out of foul trouble and from having to guard Dexter Pittman one-on-one.

"I thought our defense was really good," Self agreed. "We didn't guard Damion to start the game. Granted they missed shots but we guarded them really well. I thought trapping the post really helped us."

The conference race is not over yet but Kansas has plenty of reasons to feel good. The Jayhawks are sitting atop the conference at 9-0 with a three-game lead. Another league title is not inevitable but I wouldn't bet against this group.

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