Commentary

Texas regroups, ends Kansas' streak

Originally Published: January 22, 2011
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The rout was on.

The score was 18-3. Allen Fieldhouse was loud enough to wake old Phog himself. Kansas was hitting 3-pointers, dunking, driving at will. The unbeaten Jayhawks were taking everything from Texas but its television network.

[+] EnlargeTexas huddle
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTexas improved to 4-0 in Big 12 play with an impressive comeback win at Kansas.

An extension of the nation's longest home-court winning streak to 70 games seemed assured. So did the continuation of the Longhorns' all-time winless streak in Lawrence.

Amid the carnage, Texas coach Rick Barnes sat on the visiting bench like he was at a movie theater. No standing, no yelling. And no timeouts.

"I thought we needed two," opined Horns senior forward Gary Johnson.

That's why Johnson plays and Barnes coaches. He's not a big timeout guy to stop opposing runs, but this is more important: he trusts this Texas team more than the fractious group that folded at precisely this time last year.

"I know our team," Barnes said. "I think there's a time in the game where they have to figure it out."

The Horns figured it out, all right. Texas weathered a Prairie tornado, turned momentum completely around and emerged with one of the best victories in program history, 74-63.

The No. 11 Longhorns outscored the No. 2 Jayhawks by 23 points over the final 18 minutes and 45 seconds, showcasing the cohesion, poise and toughness Texas flagrantly lacked in the final two months last season.

That team spiraled from 17-0 and ranked No. 1 to 24-10 and unranked. The Horns bottomed out with an early Big 12 tournament exit and a first-round NCAA tournament loss to an equally dysfunctional Wake Forest.

For a team that would have three players taken in the NBA draft -- two in the first round -- it was a total chemistry failure.

"It was every man for himself last year," guard J'Covan Brown said. "It hurt us. We didn't know how to get it back together. That's the first thing Coach said this year: We had to stay together as a team."

The 2010 tailspin began with consecutive losses to ranked opponents on Jan. 18 and 23. On Jan. 19, 2011, Texas thumped No. 10 Texas A&M 81-60. Then the Horns followed it up with this steely comeback against the Jayhawks -- a team that ripped them in Austin last February.

"Last year they came into our house and destroyed us," Brown said. "That's what was on my mind, but I didn't tell nobody."

[+] EnlargeJ'Covan Brown
Denny Medley/US PresswireJ'Covan Brown scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to power the Longhorns' comeback.

Brown had scored just 18 points total in Texas' previous three games. But he lit up Kansas for a season-high 23 Saturday, scoring 17 in the second half and playing with an insouciance that can help a guard thrive in a pressure-laden atmosphere like this.

"Some games he's here, some games he's not," Johnson said. "Just the way he's feeling, I guess.

"He's one of those guys who feels like he's very underrated when he's on the big stage, and feels like he can hit the big shots to keep the crowd out of it. That gets his motor going."

Brown, for his part, concurs. He does think he's underrated.

"Some teams don't give me the credit I deserve," he said. "I felt I've got a lot to prove."

So, J'Covan, how much credit do you deserve now, after shooting down Kansas in its own gym?

"I don't need the credit right now," he said. "Toward the end of the season you can give me all the credit you want."

Brown deserves credit for what happened in the final 11:35 left of the game, starting when he hit two straight 3-pointers to give the Horns their first lead, 45-44. Brown, fellow sophomore Jordan Hamilton and freshman guard Cory Joseph did the offensive work to expand Texas' lead from there, but the Horns' big men won the game on the defensive end.

Johnson and fellow senior Matt Hill combined for nine defensive rebounds, and freshman Tristan Thompson had five blocked shots. Together they were such a deterrent that Kansas' much-celebrated front line all but abandoned the paint.

The muscled-up Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, combined to hoist six 3-point shots, making just one. They finished the game just 8 of 24 from the field and 9 of 16 from the line.

The Jayhawks could not make up for that lack of interior production with any creativity off the dribble. Hyped freshman Josh Selby continued to struggle, scoring four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Selby has made just 14 of his last 46 shots, and his lack of production leaves a major hole in Kansas' offensive repertoire.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Morris
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMarcus Morris and Kansas were powerless to stop Texas' second-half assault in the Longhorns' comeback win.

Yet the Jayhawks' first loss since the March Madness shocker against Northern Iowa was by no means their biggest loss of the weekend. That occurred Friday night, when forward Thomas Robinson's mother, Lisa, died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

That capped a heartbreaking few weeks for Robinson, who lost his grandmother and grandfather earlier this month. Somehow, the sophomore from Washington, D.C., summoned the energy to play Saturday.

"I was shocked he played," said teammate Tyshawn Taylor.

"He's a stud," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "It's amazing to me that he's out there today. … He said he wanted to be out there and I didn't fight it. It puts everything in perspective. He's got a 9-year-old sister left in his family and she's half the country away."

Robinson's tragedy might have served as the emotional catalyst to Kansas' inspired start. But as often happens when a team comes out with that kind of intensity, it couldn't be sustained. The Jayhawks flattened out noticeably midway through the first half and never really regained their early fire.

As Kansas lost steam, Texas shot past. But even after taking a double-digit lead into the final 3:30, the Horns still had to execute on a couple of key possessions to pull out the victory.

With the score 64-58, Texas worked the clock until Hamilton made a strong baseline move for a layup. Then, with the score 66-61, the Horns again worked the clock until Hamilton drove and kicked to Johnson for an 18-foot baseline jumper.

The play was noteworthy for two reasons: Hamilton has never met a shot he didn't like, and at that point Johnson was just 1-for-7 from the field.

"I was just wide open," Johnson said. "I didn't think he could pass up a pass like that."

The pass and the shot were both unerring. When it swished, Texas had its third major road victory of the season: North Carolina in Greensboro; Michigan State in East Lansing; and now Kansas in Lawrence.

Last time a team beat those three opponents away from home in the same season: 1992-93. That team was the Michigan Fab Five, and it made it all the way to the NCAA title game.

Time will tell whether Texas has that kind of run in it. But you have to like the chances of a team that likes each other a whole lot more than last year.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

ALSO SEE