Texas routs Kansas, signaling the Jayhawks may not run away with the Big 12

Three minutes remained in Kansas' 81-69 loss at Texas on Saturday when Jayhawks coach Bill Self could no longer hide his frustration.

An unforced turnover by freshman guard Wayne Selden prompted Self to stifle a grimace and bury his face in his hands as if to signal he couldn't bear to watch his team anymore.

No Kansas fans would blame Self for his exasperation because many of them probably felt the same way. As formidable as the Jayhawks looked beating five ranked teams and rolling to a 7-0 start in the Big 12, that's how bad they played Saturday in suffering their first loss in nearly a month.

Just when it seemed Andrew Wiggins was finally hitting his stride after back-to-back 27- and 29-point games, the freshman phenom fouled out with seven points and didn't hit his first shot until midway through the second half. Just when it seemed Naadir Tharpe had blossomed into a distributor and leader, the junior point guard regressed with a three-point, three-assist effort. And just when it seemed Joel Embiid was emerging as the most dominant center in the nation, the freshman 7-footer took a step backward and wasn't even the best big man on the floor.

The poor performances from Kansas' most important players made it difficult for the Jayhawks to even be competitive against a Texas team that has emerged as one of the nation's pleasant surprises. The Longhorns led by 15 at halftime and by as many as 20 in the second half en route to a victory that gave them sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and moved them just a game behind the first-place Jayhawks.

If Texas' performance validated the Longhorns (17-4, 6-2) as Big 12 title contenders, then Kansas' struggles raised questions about the Jayhawks.

Is Kansas the elite team that has racked up points with ease in Big 12 play and appeared ready to run away with the league title prior to Saturday? Or are the Jayhawks the erratic team that lost four times in non-league play and got outclassed in Austin against a Texas team that pounded them on the glass and kept them out of the paint?

The truth is Kansas is probably somewhere in the middle.

At its best, Kansas is fully capable of contending for the national title and defeating anyone in the country, as the Jayhawks proved defeating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State last month. But a Kansas team that starts three freshmen and five new starters is not surprisingly more prone to bouts of inconsistency than some of the nation's other top teams.

Credit Texas for some of Kansas' struggles on Saturday too.

Already one of the best teams in the nation at gobbling up rebounds and protecting the rim, Texas excelled in those areas against the Jayhawks, piling up 19 offensive boards and blocking 12 shots. In one second-half sequence, backup big man Prince Ibeh came off his man to swat away a Wiggins runner, then deflected an Embiid mid-range jumper on the next Kansas possession.

Texas also got a huge boost Saturday from the inside-outside duo of Jonathan Holmes and Isaiah Taylor. Holmes scored 22 points and got to the foul line 10 times, while Taylor lit up the Jayhawks' backcourt for 23 points by slashing to the rim at will.

Before the season, the Big 12 team assumed to be the biggest threat to Kansas' nine-year reign atop the conference was Oklahoma State, which returned national player of the year candidate Marcus Smart and the core of an NCAA tournament team. The Cowboys have since fallen short of expectations, but a new challenger has emerged.

Texas may have lost its four leading scorers from last year's 18-loss team, but the young Longhorns have proven they're a team to be feared nonetheless.

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