Monday, March 12

Texas / Kansas: Running Diary of the Big 12 Final

So why on earth am I doing a running diary of this game? There's a few reasons:
1 - Watching Kevin Durant play when he's on is incredible, and it's certainly worth writing about.
2 - Having not seen much of Kansas this year (boo on me for not following a title contender that closely), I wanted a record of how Kansas operates.
3 - After watching Texas blow a 12-point halftime lead at Kansas last week, I was curious to see how the game would unfold with more on the line. The answer: almost the exact same.

3:12: Texas opens with a steal, a Brandon Rush block on the other end, Texas offensive board, another Rush block, with yet a third block on the next Texas possession. This may be a recurring theme, even though Texas scored.

3:15: Durant hits a 3. He follows this up on the next posession by launching a 70-foot pass to the Texas cheerleaders - Kansas ball. He follows that up by hitting another 3. Durant 8, Kansas' Julian Wright 6. What other players?

3:17: First TV timeout. Durant looks sharp so far, Texas has dominated the glass early. It'll be a while before Rick Barnes forgets Durant plays for the Longhorns at this rate - at least 10 minutes. We learn Durant got the ball on 67% of the second half possessions in Texas' semifinal win over Oklahoma St., which seems both low (he's great) and high (that's still a ton). 10-6 Texas.

3:21: Texas' Token Tall White Guy (TTWG - name: Connor Atchley) hits a 2. 14-6 Texas, and we're looking a lot like last week already. Whoops, make that 17-6 Texas - Kansas calls time to stop the bleeding.

3:23: Kansas still can't buy a basket - Durant 9, Wright 6.

3:24 - I think Texas is up on the boards by about 10,000 - 2 right now. Durant 11, Kansas 6, and it's looking ugly.

3:26: Durant goes to the bench for a breather before the under 12 TV TO. Kansas responds with a 2-0 run to cut the lead to 21-8. Boy, it'd be nice if Texas kept that effort up for the entire game, wouldn't it? (Note: foreshadowing) KU's first task in coming back: outscore Durant, then worry about catching the entire team.

3:29: Video package of Big 12 games - three things omitted: 1 - Okla. St.'s horrid road performance (which will be why they don't get a bid), 2 - Texas eating it against KU in the second half, 3 - the Big 12 North (not counting Kansas).

3:31: Durant 14, KU 10.

3:32: KU with yet another block - about the only thing they're doing well so far. If Durant wasn't such a (pick your modifier: force, freak of nature) they'd have a shot at shutting him down, too. Durant 16, KU 10.

3:33: Kansas with yet another timeout - 27-10 Texas. Kansas needs to get on the boards, although since they've come back from worse than this (they did last week), I don't think they're despairing.

3:36: Durant 19, KU 10. Also, there's no such thing as a 10-point play - thanks, Fran Frischilla.

3:38: Kansas with a 3 to cut the Texas lead to ...32-13. We're under 8 now, and we got there by the TTWG stepping on the inbounds line after said 3. It'll be Kansas' ball again, and we're reaching the point where Durant will probably not see the ball again for the remainder of the half.

3:41: KU turnover. So much for that possession.

3:42: Sideline interview disclosure - Celtics' GM Danny Ainge was at the Texas game last night. That sound you heard was Bill Simmons screaming in glee.

3:44: Durant 22, KU 17. Oops.

3:45: Durant 22, KU 19. Comeback! Augustin with an airball - watch him jack up the next 6 shots.

3:46: Durant 22, KU 21. They're almost equaling Durant, but they're still down by 14. Texas really hasn't done much lately.

3:47: Texas calls TO. It's still 35-24 UT, but it's notable for a few reasons: Kansas has looked sharp, Durant hasn't seen the ball much, and somewhere in here Augustin picked up his second foul. Also, Kansas has finally outscored Durant.

3:48: Oops. Durant got a shot (finally) but was blocked; Mason gets the block and drives for 2, making it 37-24 Texas. Kansas is still starting to come around, even counting that last possession.

3:51: Fun times - on ESPN's online broadcast, you can occasionally catch stuff on the announcers' mics that the regular viewers won't get.

3:53: Under 3 minutes - Augustin has been out since about 6 minutes to go. Backtracking a bit, that'd be somewhere around 3:44 in realtime, which is not coincedentally when Kansas started to go on their run. Texas is looking bad offensively.

3:54: Durant steps on the line - 2nd Texas turnover in as many posessions. Durant seems reluctant to take charge offensively, even though the guys who taking charge (Justin Mason, A. J. Abrams, Damion James) shouldn't be.

3:56: Yet another Texas TO - technically Durant's fault, but Mason really shouldn't go into a windup before launching a 120 mph pass at Durant's chest.

3:58: We close the first half like we started it - with a Kansas block. At the half, it's 39-34 UT, and it absolutely shouldn't be that close. Augustin was out and Durant didn't do anything once Augustin left the game.

4:18: After a spirited KU sequence, Sasha Kaun goes down hard, elbowed in the face by James and then falling 9 feet onto his back. Rough time, but he's fine.

4:19: Kansas ends the comedy of errors (no, I didn't write down what they were - yes, that's stupid) with a 3.

4:20: Darrell Arthur goes down hard after an Augustin drive (no foul on either end). Durant? MIA.

4:21: Check that, he just got a Wade-style foul called in his favor. He respondes by charging on the next possession - even though that one was a blocking foul.

4:25: Odd sequence with a ton of bad shots, outlet passes, and dribble drives. Exciting, but it'd be nice if they scored. Durant draws another foul to take us into the first TV TO. Kansas is starting to have some serious fouling issues. 49-42 Texas.

4:28: Durant hits both FTs to go to 24 on the afternoon.

4:30: 2nd half has been very sloppy - of course, as soon as I write that, KU (someone) dishes a nice pass to Wright for the slam.

4:31: Durant's MIA again - when TTWG has to slam it, it's gonna be a long half. 53-49 Texas.

4:32: Announcers are calling out Barnes for being too quiet on the sidelines (it should be noted that Frischilla calls him out, then backtracks so hastily he leaves skid marks) - almost as if he does nothing other than stand around and watch his team blow late leads. Meanwhile, Bill Self has a plan for Durant: beat the hell out of him. Wright picks up his 4th foul.

4:35: Yet another foul on KU at the 11:54 mark - 55-52 Texas, and I'm wondering a few things right now:
1 - will Durant take over at some point? Right now, he's content with getting fouled and letting Abrams and James take bad 15-footers.
2 - will Kansas lose some key players to fouls?
3 - will the "hack the phenom" strategy work? Kansas is damn close.

4:39: Only hot player on the court right now: Sherron Collins. 55-54 Texas.

4:40: Durant answers with a fallaway jumper. Glad to see you again! He's taken the last 2 - no, 3 - shots. 1/3.

4:45: Craig Winder (who? Texas' only senior) hits 1 out of 2 FTs. 58-56 Texas.

4:46: Darnell Jackson picks up his fourth foul - that's two Jayhawks with 4 now. Durant with a lob layup on a pass from James - Durant's got 30 now.

4:47: Brandon Rush with a block - just kidding, he hit a 3. Durant tries a 3 at the other end but misses, Kaun with a great ball recovery, leading to a foul on the Chalmers drive to take us to the under 8 TV TO. 60-59 Texas.

4:51: 61-60 Kansas! Chalmers hits both of them, and Kansas gets their first lead since it was 4-2.

4:52: I've been slagging on Durant for not being more involved, but I haven't given Brandon Rush nearly enough credit, who's played well on both ends of the court, especially defensively. He picks off a pass which leads to another Texas foul - 63-60 Kansas.

4:55: Abrams with a rushed (missed) 3, Collins with a miss on a drive, James with a turnover on a Texas possession that never gets on track, Chalmers with a charge - 4 on him now, too. Feel the excitement! Big 12 basketball!

4:56: Rush hits a couple of FTs to push the lead to 67-62 Kansas - at just under 6 minutes left, we'll be seeing a lot more of that the rest of the way.

4:58: Collins with an awesome drive and reverse layup. Augustin gets tied up - Texas uses their arrow. 69-65 Kansas.

5:02: Durant called for a push - 69-66 Kansas still. Exciting.

5:06: Durant with the last 5 Texas points and a block on the other end - tie game @ 71. 2:30 left. About time Durant started to step up.

5:07: Abrams with a steal, Winder with a putback, Self with a TO. Texas up by 2.

5:08: Dear lord. You'll read about this elsewhere, I'm sure, but Jackson went to save the ball and basically threw it at the backboard - only it bounced off the rim straight to Chalmers, who then proceeds to hit a 3-point play.

5:09: Durant draws yet another foul, and is now to 37 points on the day (1:42 left). Texas by 1, 75-74.

5:11: Abrams with a 3. That's 78-74 Texas with 1:01 left, and Kansas is in trouble ... although if I could choose to be down 4 to any Top-15 team with a minute left, it'd be Texas.

5:16: Winder hits 1 of 2 FTs again, making it 79-76 Texas. For some reason here, UT calls a timeout with 21.6s left. I don't get this; Kansas has used all their timeouts, you know they're going for a three here - why let Self have time to draw up a play?

5:18: Sure enough, Chalmers hits a 3! Tied at 78 with 13.8s left, and UT calls time again. Not surprisingly, they're setting up something for Durant, although my previous wondering of why on earth you'd call time at 21.6s left seems valid now.

5:20: Durant misses. We're going to OT. ESPN celebrates by running the same video package they ran in the first half. Big 12 basketball! 6 exciting games all year!

5:23: James shows his clutchness by getting fouled, missing a bunny, then missing both FTs. Go Texas! As a contrast, Wright nails a jumper making it 81-79 Kansas.

5:25: Superintendent Chalmers fouls out (eh, it was bound to happen) after fouling Abrams on a 3 (okay, Chalmers is an idiot). He gets bailed out as Abrams only makes 2 of 3, but we're still tied.

5:27: Kansas and Texas open up a joint bricklaying venture, and James - who's had an awesome OT already - dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds.

5:28: Russell Robinson with a J to push it to 83-81 Kansas.

5:29: Foul on Durant after not touching the ball on the previous possession. 84-81 Kansas.

5:30: Augustin's 3 is blocked (Rush? not sure). Missed J @ KU's end, still 84-81. Rush has about 85 blocks today. 22.4s left.

5:34: Augustin drives on Jackson - but Jackson blocks it to himself! Texas has to foul here, and Bill Russell is invoked - cleanup on Bill Simmons' couch. Cleanup on the couch.

5:35: Abrams hits a 3! 86-84 Kansas, 8.3s left. Durant? Who?

5:36: Kudos to Fran for calling a diamond press on Texas's part, which is exactly what happens. Robinson (67% FT) fouled, but hits both. 88-84 Kansas, and they use their last TO.

5:40: Durant misses a 3, Kansas runs out the clock. 88-84 is the final.

So what did we learn about those three questions way up at the beginning of this post?
1 - Durant was absolutely on at the beginning of the game, but a lot of the offense wasn't run through him later on. What didn't help matters was Rush doing a great job on him in the second half and some poor looks. Possible sign of concern here: is he turning it off for periods of time?
2 - Kansas looks damn good right now; their D kept them in the game early, and they've got a very balanced scoring attack. Kudos on the blocks, too.
3 - I kind of already answered this at the beginning anyway, but there were a few reasons:
A) James and Abrams seem to enjoy shooting the ball, even when they shouldn't. James got the ball way too often in OT, and while I didn't keep a good record of it, didn't get many good looks at the basket at all during the game.
B) Not having Augustin in hurt; I was talking with the other contributor here yesterday, and we both decided that even after Augustin picked up his second foul in the first half, you leave him in the game and tell him, "Look, play soft on D, but run the offense. We need you out there to make sure nobody goes insane. We'll rotate toward you on D if we need to." Abrams, James, etc. can't run the offense.
C) An extension of the first two reasons - youth. Augustin and Durant are the only guys that don't really play like freshmen.

Remember this game when you're staring at that Texas / UNC matchup.