Feb 23, 2012, 12:29 AM EDT
Word has been getting around that there are now not only two, but three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the newest addition, Kansas winning the Big 12 title.
Fate took a step in that direction on Wednesday night, as the No. 4 Jayhawks avoided a loss in an important trap game, outlasting Texas A&M on the road, 66-58, in College Station, Texas.
Guard Elijah Johnson, who has been streaky for Bill Self’s team so far this year, had 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the first half and finished with 21, picking up for a less-than-stellar offensive night from star Thomas Robinson.
After trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, Texas A&M clawed to within four points with under a minute to play, helped along by a Jayhawk scoring drought of nearly seven minutes down the stretch.
But the key is that Kansas won. On the road and with a Saturday matchup against No. 3 Missouri looming on the horizon, the Jayhawks did what the Tigers were unable to do on Tuesday night: get a victory.
And the manner in which they did it has some lasting implications.
Looking at the box score, it seems A&M was able to limit Thomas Robinson, the heart of the Kansas attack. In part, they were successful, but the defensive holes left by the focus on Robinson made the difference.
Billy Kennedy dared someone else to beat his Aggies, and they did.
Robinson still finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds, but the double- and triple-teams that welcomed him on the block freed up opportunities on the perimeter.
That is what makes Kansas so dangerous in the Big 12 and heading into March.
If Elijah Johnson has hit his stride, Tyshawn Taylor can limit his turnovers, and Big 12 blocks leader Jeff Withey keeps playing like a legitimate second option in the paint, Kansas could be headed for its eighth-straight conference title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
One night after Kansas State showed how size can disrupt Missouri’s offensive flow, Kansas outrebounded A&M by 11, had a balanced attack with four scorers in double figures, and was able to win without an All-American-type game from Robinson.
Now the spotlight shifts to Saturday’s matchup, which should decide the Big 12 regular season title.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Kansas was in control, up eight with just over two minutes left, before four costly turnovers and nine huge points from Missouri guard Marcus Denmon allowed the Tigers to escape at home.
Two key things have changed since that game.
Tyshawn Taylor has controlled the ball better since that six-turnover outing against Mizzou, averaging a modest three turnovers per game in his last five.
Jeff Withey has emerged in a big way, including a three-game stretch where he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds. That has pushed his zero-point, four-rebound performance against Missouri far out of mind.
And one more thing: Saturday’s matchup will be in Lawrence, Kan., in an arena that gives legitimate life to the notion of homecourt advantage.
Not to say Missouri doesn’t have a shot.
The Tigers shoot an impressive percentage from the field, work well in transition, and have one of the best Sixth Men in the country coming off their bench in Michael Dixon.
But, man, isn’t Kansas coming together nicely? Someone may have to pry the Big 12 title from their hands.
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