GAME NOTES: The fourth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks continue pursuit of their ninth straight Big 12 title, when they take on the Texas Longhorns on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.
Bill Self's Jayhawks have been almost perfect on the season. The team dropped its second game of the campaign in a neutral site affair against Michigan State (67-64), but has won 14 straight since. The team's superior play has poured over into league action, with a pair of lopsided wins over Texas Tech (60-46) on the road and Baylor (61-44) at home.
Rick Barnes' young Longhorns have suffered growing pains this season and as a result, Texas currently sits a a mediocre 8-8 overall. To make matters a little worse is the early hole the team has put itself in with three straight losses to open Big 12 play, including an 82-62 rout at Iowa State last weekend.
Kansas holds a 20-7 advantage in the all-time series and has won six of the last seven meetings, overall. Texas holds a narrow 3-2 edge in games played in Austin.
The Jayhawks dialed up the defense to new heights against Baylor last time out, allowing a mere 44 points, the fewest Kansas has given up in a conference game since 2007. It was also KU's 32nd straight home win, the second-longest active streak in the nation. Freshman Ben McLemore finished with a team-high 17 points. Joining him in double figures were Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, who tacked on 12 and 10 points, respectively.
McLemore has made an immediate impact for Kansas, shooting 50.3 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from behind the arc to lead the team with 16.4 ppg. He is currently listed a probable for this game, nursing an injured ankle. The Jayhawks have the luxury of great balance, as the team complements McLemore's accuracy from the perimeter, with one of the nation's premier big men in senior center Jeff Withey. The 7-footer is averaging 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while ranking among the nation's best shot-blockers (4.7 bpg). Releford and Johnson add to the perimeter depth with 13.0 and 9.9 ppg, respectively. Johnson also serves as the team's primary facilitator (5.2 apg).
Jonathan Holmes and Julien Lewis each finished with 15 points, but it wasn't even close to be enough, as the Longhorns fell by 20 points to the Cyclones in Ames last time out. Ioannis Papapetrou added 13 points in defeat, but the remainder of the roster combined for a mere 19 points.
That has been the problem all season long for Texas, which simply lacks ideal scoring depth. The Longhorns are averaging a modest 64.1 ppg this season as their shooting accuracy has been the main culprit. The team is netting just 40.1 percent of its shots overall, including under 30 percent from 3-point range. The saving grace is the fact that Texas leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.343). Sophomore Sheldon McClellan currently leads the team in scoring at 14.3 ppg, but has struggled of late, prompting Barnes to sit him all but one minute of the game against Iowa State. For the Longhorns to turn things around, McClellan will need to become more of the leader. SOphomore guard Julien Lewis (11.8 ppg) and freshman guard Javan Felix (9.4 ppg) add limited scoring punch, while Felix serves as the team's top distributor (6.3 apg).
The Longhorns lack the veteran leadership necessary to take down one of the nation's big boys. Kansas is starting to hit its stride and there may not be many obstacles between the Jayhawks and another conference crown.