March 16, 2008

Chalmers leads Kansas to Big 12 tourney title

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. Texas considers Texas A&M and Oklahoma rivals, and doesn't particularly like losing to Texas Tech. Kansas always highlights Kansas State and Missouri on its schedule.

But when it comes to memorable games, the rivalry between Texas and Kansas is quickly becoming one of the best in college basketball - and it seems to be getting better by the game.

Mario Chalmers had a career-high 30 points and eight of Kansas' tournament-record 15 3-pointers, helping the fifth-ranked Jayhawks beat No. 6 Texas 84-74 on Sunday for their third straight Big 12 title over the Longhorns.

Trading dunks and 3-pointers, the Big 12's regular-season co-champions reeled off runs like it was an NBA All-Star game, causing the sellout crowd of 19,047 to spend as much time on their feet as in their seats. Texas and Kansas played a near-perfect first half, hitting a combined 27 3-pointers and committing just 14 turnovers between them.

"That was one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Kansas (31-3) was at its ball-sharing best, getting 25 assists on 26 field goals, and shot 15-of-25 from behind the arc, breaking the tournament record of 14 set by Colorado in 1995 and matched by Missouri in 2001.

Brandon Rush had 19 points and hit six 3-pointers, and Darrell Arthur had 16 points - three more than his two previous games combined - to help the Jayhawks win their sixth Big 12 title in 12 years, matching the combined total of the conference's 11 other teams.

Kansas closed the game on a 14-3 run, going 7-of-8 from the free throw line over the final 54 seconds to hold off the Longhorns. The Jayhawks have won three straight conference titles for the second time in school history (1997-99), earning them a No. 1 seed in Midwest region of the NCAA tournament and a first-round matchup against Portland State in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday.

"It was like a game of H-O-R-S-E out there," Kansas guard Russell Robinson said. "We were just trading 3s back and forth. We got that last little run and opened it up."

Texas (28-6) made 12 3-pointers, had just four turnovers had four players score in double figures. It still wasn't enough to give the Longhorns their first Big 12 title in five title-game appearances.

D.J. Augustin of Texas had 20 points and hit four 3-pointers, though he scored just two points and missed all nine of his shots in the second half. A.J. Abrams scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and Justin Mason added 17 points for Texas, which shot 8-for-33 in the second half and was outrebounded 42-29.

At least the loss didn't hurt the Longhorns too much. They are the No. 2 seed in the South Region and will face Austin Peay in Little Rock, Ark., on Friday.

"Great college basketball game," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Both teams really went at it, played really, really hard."

Despite 700 miles and a state separating the campuses, Texas-Kansas is quickly becoming one of the best rivalries in college basketball.

They have combined to win or share six of the past seven regular-season conference titles and the past three tournaments. Kansas is headed to the NCAA tournament for the 19th straight year and Texas is making its 10th consecutive trip. Both teams reached the 2003 Final Four and Kansas went the year before as well.

They have also played some memorable games over the past few years, perhaps none better than last year's Big 12 tournament title game, when Kansas rallied from a 22-point deficit to beat the Longhorns 88-84 in overtime.

Their only meeting this season, Feb. 11 in Austin, was another thriller, with Texas pulling out a 72-69 win over the third-ranked Jayhawks.

"It has become a great series," Augustin said. "Every time we play them, they give us a tough battle and we try to do the same, and it is a great game between both teams."

This one was no different, both teams racing up and down the court, trading spectacular plays on just about every possession.

Kansas, playing what felt like a home game, made sure the rowdy fans didn't stay in their seats long, hitting eight of its first 10 shots, including all four 3-point attempts. Chalmers led the way, going 5-of-6 from 3-point range and finishing the first half with 17 points. Rush hit four 3-pointers for 12 points.

Texas got an early lift from Mason, a 7.0 scorer this season who hit two 3-pointers and had 10 points in the first 9 minutes.

Augustin then took over, scoring 10 points in 5 minutes, including two on an incredible fadeaway over the corner of the basket. He added a 3-pointer from the wing, finishing the first half with 18 points and making all four of his 3-point attempts.

By the time the teams were done trading blows, Kansas had made nine 3-pointers and was 17-of-29 overall, while Texas had hit eight 3-pointers and was 18-of-31, good enough for a 46-45 lead.

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