Kansas’ cool in the clutch vs. Texas a crucial development

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Among Saturday’s trio of terrific afternoon finishes, Kansas was the lone team to avoid the upset bug.

Barely.

The No. 7 Jayhawks couldn’t maintain a double-digit second-half lead at Texas and trailed by four points with 3:24 left. But they increased the defensive pressure on J’Covan Brown (who chucked 26 shots and only made seven) and kept their cool during their final offensive possessions for a 69-66 win.

That’s an important development for Bill Self’s team, which remained the Big 12’s only unbeaten team.

“The best win we’ve had all year. It’s what we needed,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “ The last one or two possession game we’d played was Georgetown in early November. Our guys stepped up. Jeff showed some guts making those free throws, and we defended the last possession well.”

Considering games at Iowa State, Missouri, Baylor and Kansas State are all in the next three weeks, winning on the road in a tight game is crucial for confidence and title hopes. But it also shows Kansas’ cohesive growth this season.

As C.J. Moore wrote in his blog, Thomas Robinson’s no longer looking to do everything on offense for Kansas. It was his pass to Jeff Withey – and the willingness to make that pass rather than assume the entire offensive burden – that gave Withey an easy bucket and the chance for a 3-point play (which he completed).

That’s not always an easy thing to do. From Moore:

KU has had two other games that came down to the final few possessions — Duke in Maui and Davidson in Kansas City. Taylor had a costly turnover against Duke when KU trailed by two in the final minute and needed a basket. In the final minutes against Davidson, the Jayhawks tried to make hero shots. They knew they were losing a game they shouldn’t have been losing, and they panicked.

The scenario was more like the Davidson game, because both were games the Jayhawks were expected to win. What made Saturday different from the Davidson loss was Kansas actually played well for most of the game and played with energy. The reason Texas was able to come back was that shots just quit falling for the Hawks, Brown started making some ridiculous shots and the Longhorns got a few lucky bounces. Big swings in momentum like that happen on the road, and great teams find a way to win those games.

Finding a way to win conference road games is never an easy task, no matter how talented a team is. Kansas isn’t filled with future pros as in years past, but it’s winning like those teams. And if they cut play it cool down the stretch of games?

That’s a team to watch in March.

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