DALLAS (AP)—The Kansas Jayhawks are heading into selection Sunday with 14 wins in their last 15 games. Perhaps the only thing better than finding out what seed that’s earned them in the NCAA tournament is getting to avenge the only loss in that streak.
Mario Chalmers had 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds, leading No. 17 Kansas to an easy 79-65 victory over Nebraska in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament Saturday, setting up a showdown with No. 8 Texas in the title game.
The Longhorns beat the Jayhawks 80-55 in Austin on Feb. 25. The teams ended up tied for first place in the league standings, but Texas got the No. 1 seed in this tournament by winning their lone regular-season meeting.
“It’s a debate out there as to who’s the best team in the conference. It’s time to settle who that is,” Kansas freshman star Brandon Rush said. “We’re ready for it. It’s going to be pretty exciting. This time it’s going to be on neutral ground so it’ll be a lot more even.”
The only downside is that the game likely won’t affect either team’s NCAA seed. It will end about the time the selection show begins, making it tough for the result to be factored in, although the committee certainly will keep tabs on it.
The Jayhawks (24-7) narrowly escaped the quarterfinals, beating Oklahoma State by one point in a rough and tumble game that went down to the buzzer. Russell Robinson came into this one with a bandage over his right eye as a reminder of that game, but Kansas ended up using the finesse of 3-point shooting to turn this one into a rout before halftime.
A 13-2 run fueled by four 3s provided the cushion the Jayhawks needed. Their lead peaked at 21 early in the second half and the Cornhuskers (19-12) were never closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Robinson had 13 points and eight assists. Darnell Jackson had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Jeff Hawkins scored 11, including three 3-pointers.
“I don’t think we played with the same energy we did last night,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But we made shots. … Yesterday we made three shots outside of 6 feet for the game. Three. Today, if we did not make shots, it would have really been an ugly offensive game.”
Jason Dourisseau led Nebraska with 16 points and Wes Wilkinson added 15. Aleks Maric scored 12 and Marcus Perry had 10.
The Cornhuskers ended a surprising run at an NCAA berth. The loss likely turned the program’s focus back to questions about whether coach Barry Collier will keep his job.
Nebraska won only four of its last 11 games. The Huskers had lost three straight before beating Missouri in the first round, then upsetting No. 22 Oklahoma in the quarterfinals.
“As far as I am concerned, I am the coach of Nebraska until I hear different,” Collier said. He then made a reference to hopefully getting into the NIT field, then added, “That’s where my focus is going to be.”
Kansas beat Nebraska by 42 and 21 in their previous meetings this season, games that Collier had called “a nightmare and at least a very bad dream.”
Although the final margin was a little closer this time, it certainly fit the same category.
Nebraska came out in a defense aimed to stop Rush, so Chalmers took over instead, scoring or assisting on Kansas’ first four baskets. Then the Jayhawks busted Nebraska’s zone by shooting over it. The result was never in doubt after Kansas got rolling in the first half.
The Jayhawks are headed to the finals of the Big 12 tournament for the fifth time in the league’s 10-year history. It’ll be their first appearance since 2002, and their first under Self. They haven’t won it since taking the first three, from 1997-1999.
For freshmen like Rush and Chalmers, or even sophomores like Robinson and Jackson, the significance of Kansas’ proud tradition may be hard to grasp.
Right now, the only school history that matters to them happened Feb. 25 in Austin.
“That was the biggest game we played all year. Our young players didn’t know what to expect,” said Hawkins, a senior. “Now they know what’s going on and be a little more calm and focused. I think we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Jackson admitted to being scared and having the jitters before playing Texas. He doesn’t expect it to happen again.
“I am just going to have to play my game,” he said.