The long-awaited matchup between Kansas University and Texas is finally here.
But has today’s 8 p.m. Big Monday battle at Erwin Center lost some of its luster, considering the Longhorns, who last month were the country’s No. 1-ranked team, have opened Big 12 play with a so-so 5-3 record compared to KU’s perfect 8-0 mark?
“It doesn’t take away from the game,” KU senior Sherron Collins said of UT’s performance in league games. “It’s the Big 12. We’re on a mission. The mission is to try to win every one. One at a time, try to win the game.”
KU coach Bill Self said the game remains huge nationally, even though KU (22-1) holds a three-game lead in the loss column over (19-4) Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Missouri.
“I would assume they are thinking this is a game that gets them back,” Self said of the Longhorns. “Our hard games are left, the road games. Not that the others aren’t hard, but this thing is a long way from being over.”
KU still has to play at Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Missouri.
“I’m sure they think with our road schedule they can get some help as we have from teams who played Texas. It’s jumbled around. This thing is a long way from being over.
“They’ll be hungry to play, not because of the league race, but because it’s Kansas-Texas, just like we will be, too,” Self said.
UT enters with double-digit scorers in Damion James (17.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg), Avery Bradley (12.5 ppg, 52 assists, 33 turnovers) and Dexter Pittman (11.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
“Their team speed is great,” Self said. “I think Balbay (Dogas, 6-1 guard) is probably the best athlete in our league.”
He averages 4.3 points a game while dishing 101 assists against 36 turnovers.
“I think Damion is having a player-of-the-year-type year. They can throw bigs at you, guys who can score and who are fast. Handling pressure and rebounding the ball will be two keys,” Self said.
UT averages 43.8 boards a game to its opponents’ 36.5. KU averages 41.5 rebounds a game to foes’ 33.9.
“They’ll be aggressive. They are at home (where UT is 12-1). They’ve got the No. 1 team in the country coming in. They’ll be ready for us. It’ll be a man’s game. It’ll be fun,” KU’s Collins said.
He expects an energized UT crowd. KU is 0-3 at Erwin Center in the Self era.
Cleaning the glass: Texas’ James this season passed Nick Collison as the Big 12’s career leader in rebounds.
“One thing he always tells me is, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do anything else, but I know I’m going to rebound,’’’ UT coach Rick Barnes told the Austin American Statesman.
“When the lights are bright, that’s when the stars come out. I care about winning,” noted James.
Dexter Pittman admits it’s sometimes tempting to relax knowing James will clean up the glass.
“I play with a great rebounder,” Pittman told the Austin paper. “I know that if I box my man out, Damion will get the rebound. It’s his job.”
James, like KU big man Cole Aldrich, is an exceptional student. He has a 3.25 grade-point average.
Big target: Pittman provides an imposing presence at 6-foot-10, 290-pounds.
“An incredible presence who makes you adjust,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said after Pittman hit for just six points with seven boards in a 71-62 loss to the Wildcats on Jan. 18 in Manhattan.
Super watch party: The Jayhawks made it to Austin Sunday and watched the first half of the Super Bowl while dining at the team hotel. Some remained in the room to watch the rest of the game, and some returned to their rooms.
Plano prep visits: Zach Peters, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Prestonwood High in Plano, Texas, made an unofficial recruiting visit to KU for Saturday’s Nebraska game. Rivals.com reports that Peters, who is in the Class of 2012, has a list that includes KU, Kentucky, Texas and North Carolina. His high school teammate, Julius Randle, also made the trip.