Jayhawks Host Longhorns In Big 12 Title Showdown
Friday, March 2nd 2007, 1:04 pm
News On 6
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Bill Self knew early on that Kevin Durant was probably not interested in Kansas.
``We sent him a questionnaire,'' recalled the Jayhawks coach. ``And he never returned it. So I don't think we were ever in there very strong.''
Texas' super freshman will finally make an appearance in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, however, in a Big 12 regular-season finale bubbling with high drama and real importance for the league's two most successful programs.
The third-ranked Jayhawks (26-4 overall, 13-2 Big 12) could nail down sole possession of the conference title and take a giant step toward claiming a No. 1 NCAA seed.
``There's a great deal we could gain in this next week,'' said Self. ``And a lot we could lose, too.''
No. 15 Texas (22-7, 12-3), starting four freshmen and a sophomore, will be out to nail down a share of the regular-season title with Kansas and possibly No. 8 Texas A&M.
Durant, the Big 12's leading scorer and rebounder, could end what's been a fabulous freshman regular-season by taking one more step toward locking up _ if he hasn't done so already _ national player of the year honors.
``It will be a fabulous atmosphere,'' Self said. ``I hope it rivals some of the best game atmospheres since I've been here. Three games stand out to me ... I have to believe our fans will be just as excited, if not more, for this game for a lot of reasons.
``It's our last game, we're playing for an outright Big 12 championship, there's a lot at stake outside of that and we're playing an opponent _ and one guy in particular _ who our fans would like to see play. I won't guarantee this, but I don't think Durant will make a second trip back to Allen Fieldhouse. It should be a lot of fun.''
Longhorn fans will have their fingers crossed that one bit of recent history does not repeat itself. Coming off an exhausting double-overtime victory against Texas A&M on Wednesday night, they might still be mentally, physically and emotionally drained.
It's happened before. After their triple-overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Jan. 16, an instant classic many called the game of the year in the Big 12, the Longhorns had to turn around and fly to Villanova.
Still weary, they lost 76-69 and Durant scored only 12 points, 13 below his season average.
``That was by far our worst performance of the year, probably,'' said Texas coach Rick Barnes. ``So that's been on my mind a little bit.''
Not only will the Jayhawks be at home and fresh after not playing since Monday. They also have greater depth. Six different players have led them in scoring in their last six games, all wins.
Only once in that stretch has the same player been the top rebounder for the league's top rebounding team.
Plus, there's hardly a tougher place in the country for a visiting team than perpetually sold-out Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks are 15-2 for the year, 179-12 since 1994-95, and 5-0 against Texas.
``It's going to be exciting for me,'' said D.J. Augustine, Texas' standout freshman point guard. ``I've never been there and I've been hearing a lot about it.''
Augustine had 25 points and seven assists in the 98-96 squeaker over Texas A&M. And he was just about the only Longhorn who did not suffer in the Villanova game, scoring 25 points.
Durant, who had 30 points against the Aggies, says the Longhorns will not be cowed by the big crowd and the loud noise.
``We're excited,'' Durant said. ``It's not going to be difficult for us because we've been in those kinds of situations, playing in a loud arena in front of a hostile crowd. It's going to be a tough game, but were going to play hard.''
As for guarding the 6-10 Durant, look for the Jayhawks to try any number of different strategies, as most opponents have been frantically doing all season. The super freshman will be going against a defense that has held opponents to .370 percent from the field, second in the league only to Texas A&M.
``I would say one of our taller, more athletic guys would probably get the assignment,'' Self said with a grin.
Texas A&M will close out its regular season at home against Missouri. A victory would clinch for the Aggies a tie with whoever wins the Texas-Kansas showdown.