Kansas is playing for more than the Big 12 tournament title on Saturday night, as the third-ranked Jayhawks also are in the mix for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
To attain the latter goal, the Jayhawks must take care of the most important matter when they play seventh-ranked Texas in the conference championship game at Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas (27-6) is the favorite to land the top overall seed, but a loss to Texas (25-8) would open the door for either Alabama or Houston to claim the spot, depending on their own results.
The top-seeded Jayhawks and second-seeded Longhorns split two regular-season meetings, and the second clash was one-sided on March 4, when Texas rolled to a 75-59 home victory.
Texas reached the championship game with a 66-60 win over sixth-seeded TCU in Friday’s semifinals. Kansas advanced with a 71-58 victory over fifth-seeded Iowa State.
The Jayhawks are looking to repeat as tournament champions, with last season’s run preceding winning the national championship.
“The great thing about this tournament is it’s win or go home,” Jayhawks star forward Jalen Wilson said. “When the stakes are highest, that’s when you have to perform the best. It’s March, it’s time for winning, and why not come out here to win a championship.”
Wilson recorded 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Iowa State, giving him back-to-back double-doubles in the tournament.
Friday’s victory was the second straight without coach Bill Self, who underwent an emergency medical procedure this week and won’t be with the team on Saturday, either.
Interim coach Norm Roberts said Self’s health is improving. He also said Self helped with the preparations for Iowa State.
“We talked to him (Friday) morning, going over the game plan — how we wanted to guard, what we wanted to do — and he was good with that,” Roberts said. “He talked to us right after the game and was so excited about the way the guys played. He said, ‘Hey, we really guarded today.’ He was really happy for our guys.”
Jayhawks forward Kevin McCullar Jr. departed the game in the second half due to back spasms. It was uncertain whether he would play Saturday.
Longhorns forward Timmy Allen (lower leg) sat out the past two games and is listed as day-to-day.
While Allen was exuberantly cheering from the bench, his absence created extra opportunities for Christian Bishop and Dylan Disu, and both players took advantage against TCU.
Bishop recorded 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, and Disu added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and collected eight rebounds.
“Disu is really rebounding the ball for us at a high clip,” Texas interim coach Rodney Terry said. “He got some grown-man rebounds. Really stepped up to the challenge.
“C.B. came in and played one of his better games of the year. Had so much energy and really lifted our team.”
Longhorns’ leading scorer Marcus Carr (15.9 points per game) had 10 points and five steals but shot just 3 of 15 from the field. Carr has made only 23.3 percent of his field-goal attempts (14 of 60) over the past five games. He is 6 of 31 (19.4 percent) from 3-point range during that span.
Texas appears to be a solid No. 2 seed for March Madness under Terry, who took over the lead duties after Chris Beard was initially suspended and later fired due to domestic violence charges that eventually were dismissed.
“We’ll have an incredible challenge (Saturday) against one of the top teams in the country,” Terry said.
–Field Level Media