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Archive for Saturday, February 25, 2006

KU-Texas battle has Austin rocking

February 25, 2006

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— Dick Vitale and the ESPN GameDay crew are in town.

Frank Erwin Center is sold out.

There's definitely a buzz on the University of Texas campus this weekend and - surprise - it has nothing to do with football.

No. 16-ranked Kansas University (20-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12 Conference) is in town to play No. 7-rated UT (23-4, 11-2) in men's basketball at 8 tonight.

First place in the Big 12 is at stake.

"It's going to be unbelievable. You live for games like this," Texas junior forward P.J. Tucker said.

There's no hype needed for a contest that speaks for itself. KU has won 17 of 19 games; Texas 15 of 17.

"Good competition, national TV - they're really going to be building this up. It should be exciting," KU freshman Brandon Rush said.

"I think it will be a fun game. It's on College GameDay, so a lot of people will be watching. I came to college to play against top competition, to play in games like this."

He's not alone in that regard.

"To me, it's just a big game: Texas versus Kansas. That's how I look at it," KU sophomore forward Darnell Jackson said.

"It will be a great atmosphere. Every college program goes crazy on GameDay. We have to go in and do what we do at home: stay focused and play every minute until the end."

KU will be facing a physically talented Texas team expected to contend for a national championship, but also a mentally focused group of Longhorns wanting to win after the Jayhawks' 90-65 romp Jan. 29, 2005.

Also with GameDay in town, that game was in Allen Fieldhouse.

"There's no revenge," insisted Tucker, who did not play in the game a year ago because of academic issues.

Current sophomore Daniel Gibson led UT with 19 points in that game, and senior Kenton Paulino added 12, while current members of KU's team combined for just 16 of the 90 tallies.

"We've beaten them twice in the last three times," Tucker said. "We were down last year, and they beat us. Now, we're trying to win a Big 12 championship, so we're going to play our best game."

The young Jayhawks likely will be facing their biggest road test of the season. Texas is expecting a capacity crowd of 16,755 - just its second sellout this season.

"We just need to keep them off the boards," said Rush, whose task will be to contain Tucker, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder who averages 16.3 points and 9.2 boards a game.

"They are one of the best rebounding teams in the country," Rush said.

Texas has outrebounded its foes 41.1 to 30.6 per game. KU also has been dominant on the glass, outrebounding its opponents 41.1 to 33.3.

"They are aggressive on the boards. Aldridge (LaMarcus, 9.3 per game) is really strong, inside and outside both. We just have to come out and compete," said KU sophomore C.J. Giles, who averages 5.1 boards.

While both teams are similar in many ways - UT averages 77.7 points while allowing 59.8; KU averages 76.5 while allowing 60.2 - there are two glaring differences. Texas often uses a 2-3 zone defense, while KU likes to stick to man-to-man. Also, the Longhorns primarily use six players, while KU plays about nine.

KU has had mixed success versus zones this year.

"I don't know if I like it or dislike it. I'll like it if we make shots," KU coach Bill Self said of going against the zone. "Last year, they tried to play zone from the start. We shot it well, and they went man after that. I anticipate them playing a lot of zone."

As far as the UT zone ... "we've played with a small (undersized) zone," coach Rick Barnes said. "We've gotten away with that this year a lot more than people might think. Our bench is fine," he quickly added.

Texas has had top-quality victories against Villanova, Memphis, Iowa and West Virginia to go with its Big 12 success. Losses have been to Duke, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

"They're good," Self said of a team that barely beat Kansas State, 65-64, on Wednesday in Manhattan, a game that followed an 80-61 loss at Oklahoma State. "Any road win is a good win in this league.

"Every team goes through phases where they don't play as well, especially away from home. We've had numerous games like that. They found a way to win against K-State. It's one of those games you go 'whew' and get ready for Saturday. I don't think either team's recent performances will be much of a bearing Saturday. We played terrible against Baylor. We were flat (in Tuesday's 15-point win)."

Previous performances probably can be tossed out the window tonight with so much on the line. KU will have games remaining at home against Colorado and at K-State. Texas will play Texas A&M on the road and Oklahoma at home to close its regular-season slate.

"It's fair to say the winner has a serious leg up on the other team," Self said. "No doubt the winner of this game ... if you are able to win a home game you are guaranteed at least a piece of it (title). There's not much margin of error coming back from a mistake or blip in the road.

"This is the last five minutes of the game, and certainly anything can happen."

Barnes recognizes the magnitude of the game, too.

"In the past few weeks, they very well could be the best team in the league," Barnes said. "An extremely talented team, great defensive team. Their schedule, our schedule. There are no easy games in February, believe me."

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