Texas has struggled since it earned the school’s first No. 1 ranking last month. Knocking off rival and top-ranked Kansas could help turn things around.
The 14th-ranked Longhorns try for their first-ever victory over a No. 1 team when they host the Big 12 rival Jayhawks on Monday night.
It’s been a rough month since Texas (19-4, 5-3) took over the top spot in the AP poll from Kansas on Jan. 11. After winning their first two games as the No. 1 team to complete a 17-0 start, the Longhorns lost at then-No. 10 Kansas State and Connecticut to begin what has become a 2-4 stretch.
Tied for fourth in the Big 12, three games behind the league-leading Jayhawks (22-1, 8-0), Texas has a chance to get back on track with a fourth consecutive home victory over Kansas in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Though the Longhorns lost their last game at the Erwin Center, 80-77 to then-No. 24 Baylor on Jan. 30, and are coming off an 80-71 loss to at Oklahoma on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self expects the challenge to be difficult.
The last five matchups between the schools have been decided by 10 or fewer points, with three of those by four or less.
“(Texas will) play so hard against us on Monday,” Self said. “They’ll play hard because this is a game that can kind of right their ship.”
The class of the Big 12 in recent years, Kansas and Texas have met in the conference tournament championship game three of the last four seasons. Kansas won all three - including 83-73 on March 7 - and has taken five of the last six meetings overall. The Jayhawks, though, haven’t won in Austin since Feb. 11, 2002.
“It is one of those games that we circle on the schedule,” said Kansas’ Sherron Collins, who’s averaging 15.6 points this season, but 10.4 in five career games versus Texas.
Whichever team wins will need to play better than it did in its last contest.
Marcus Morris had 20 points with 11 rebounds and Collins added 17 points Saturday, but Kansas needed a 16-1 spurt early in the second half to overcome a four-point deficit and beat last-place Nebraska 75-64. The Jayhawks shot 48.1 percent for their eighth straight victory since losing at then-No. 16 Tennessee on Jan. 10.
Morris, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, is averaging 17.8 points and 8.5 boards in his last eight games.
Texas, meanwhile, cut a 19-point deficit to five in the final 2 minutes of its Saturday game, but its struggles at the free-throw line ultimately led to the loss at Oklahoma. A 61.0 percent free-throw shooting team, the Longhorns went 10 for 27 from the charity stripe, where they’re converting at a putrid 52.3 percent clip in their last six games.
“I have to truly believe that there are junior high school teams that can do better than that. And you know what? I’m not so sure there’s not some other teams at a lower level than that,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said.
Freshman Avery Bradley had 21 points and Damion James added 12 with nine rebounds for the Longhorns, who also struggled from the field, shooting 41.2 percent.
“We have to come together as a team and figure this thing out,” said James, who’s averaging 17.7 points in his last three games against Kansas. “We have got a big turnaround coming up here on Monday.”
The Longhorns are 0-6 all-time against top-ranked opponents, but they have won six in a row at home against teams ranked in the top 5.