James, Mason spur Horns' upset win over Jayhawks
AUSTIN, Texas -- As the ball slipped through the net on his acrobatic dunk, Damion James pumped his fist in celebration.
His feet hadn't even touched the floor.
Literally or figuratively.
James' throwdown came on an offensive rebound, a fitting exclamation point in a game where Texas' ability to outmuscle and outhustle No. 3-ranked Kansas proved the difference in a 72-69 win.
At the end of the first 20 minutes, the Jayhawks owned a 23-13 advantage on the boards and James, saddled with two early fouls, stewed on the bench with a goose egg in the rebound column.
By game's end, 11th-ranked Texas and James had turned the tables on the horrific first-half stat line (out-boarding KU 23-12 in the second half), and in the process, upset Kansas and the Big 12 Conference race.
Mario Chalmers claimed after the game that Kansas (23-2, 8-2 Big 12) was still the favorite to win the league but the standings would say otherwise.
"I think it's wide open. Is it? You tell me," James asked.
Yes, Damion it is. The would-be Final Four-lock Jayhawks stand second in their own conference, behind Kansas State and with Texas (20-4, 7-2 Big 12) chomping at their heels.
The simple truth is that Kansas is the best team in the Big 12 and is among the best in the country. Player for player for player for player on a squad that goes deeper than a Freudian theory, the Jayhawks are loaded. They haven't taken a lot of shots to the chin, blowing teams out of the water by a ridiculous 22-point average margin.
Texas had to labor and claw for its every point. Kansas offered up about 60 percent in return. That tells you how scary talented the Jayhawks are. Had Chalmers' 3-pointer not clanked off the front end of the rim as the buzzer sounded, this game was headed to overtime.
But the 3 didn't go in and in the end, the Jayhawks slunk home knowing that in each of their two losses this season, they were simply outplayed.
"I think sometimes hard work beats talent," James said. "That's what happened tonight."
Pregame conventional wisdom held that if the Jayhawks could handle the Longhorns' backcourt, they would win the game. Conventional wisdom was all sorts of topsy turvy on Monday.
Leading scorer D.J. Augustin scored his first and only bucket from the floor with 5:39 to play. The Longhorns' electric point guard was poked, prodded, pushed and pummeled, facing a wall of KU blue every time he tried to sniff the rim. He went 1-for-13 from the floor, missing his first nine shots. He finished with 10 points, nearly half his average.
And yet Texas won.
Instead of offering a code red, Rick Barnes kept the green light for Augustin.
"I've told him many, many times, 'I don't care, you're our guy,'" he said. "His penetration created a lot of problems for them. That allowed Damion and Justin [Mason] to clean up."
The clean-up crew just took a while to get to work. James had just two points and zero rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Mason was equally ineffective, with zero points and two boards.
Worse, James spent all but three minutes of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble. He's not a fan of the pine. Earlier this month, James lost his starting spot for two games after a lackluster effort against Texas A&M. So when the first half ended, James didn't need Barnes' halftime talking-to to know what he needed to do.
"Man, I just hate being on the bench," he said. "I knew my teammates would pull through for me, but I just want to play."
By the first TV timeout, James had turned his goose egg into a four rebounds. He eventually turned that into a double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds). Mason ended up with nine points and eight rebounds.
"They just outmanned us in the second half," Self said. "It does surprise me because that's all we talked about at halftime. I knew Rick was going to look at the stats and I knew he pounded his guys about that, but our guys didn't respond."
Kansas nearly stole a game -- and it would have been a first-class felony; they didn't deserve the win. Chalmers' 3-pointer with 32 seconds to play made it 69-67 and the guard nearly pickpocketed Augustin in the backcourt when Texas inbounded the ball. In a mad scramble, Texas got over midcourt with less than two seconds to spare and Kansas had to foul. A.J. Abrams hit both. Darrell Arthur cut it back to 71-69 on a putback, and when Augustin hit just one of two from the line, the Jayhawks had one last breath.
It died when Chalmers' trey fell short.
"We worked for this win," James said. "We earned it."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.