Defensive intensity, focus and effort. It's been the missing piece when the Jayhawks have struggled with inferior competition at times this year. Last night the Jayhawks showed all of those qualities and it reflected on the scoreboard in a game where it's two All America candidates were fairly average. Some might point to it as a sign of depth as Brent Musburger did in the broadcast, I'd point to it as a sign of the scoreboard taking care of itself when you make life hell on your opposition. Rather than relying on an offense that might outscore Texas, Kansas came out and shut the Longhorns down, controlled the glass and forced turnovers. Handle business in those areas and it's hard for the Jayhawks not to come out ahead with the talent they can put on the floor. Texas is a good team, Kansas essentially put them away five minutes into the second half and Bill Self might just be getting it through to this team what it takes to be a champion.
Statistically as a team the Jayhawks weren't great on offense, which has often signaled an uneasy game start to finish. Had I been told before the night began that the team would shoot just 37% from the field with our two leaders well below that mark, I would have predicted a blowout by Texas. Kansas however, did extremely well in the other areas. Defensively they forced 17 turnovers, 12 of which were steals. In terms of rebounding they grabbed 11 more than the Longhorns and 20 on the offensive end. It was the hustle plays, the effort, closing out out on the perimeter, boxing out your man on the boards. Last night Kansas did those things.
One other area that's hard to see in any stat column is when a team is making the extra pass. While it does turn up to some extent with the 14 assists for the Jayhawks you really wouldn't get a great appreciation for the patience and execution on the offensive end without watching. Now, the team didn't always finish and that can use improvement, but they did put themselves in a position to be successful more often than not due to solid ball movement.
Head to head Kansas won virtually every meaningful statistic in the game. There really isn't a whole lot that can be extrapolated on that, it is what it is. Kansas shot better, rebounded better, took care of the basketball, passed better, and the list goes on. The only two things Texas really did better than Kansas was shoot from behind the arc and block some shots. The three point stat is all but irrelevant in this one based on the Horns playing from behind all game long. As far as the blocks, you'll have that when your guards are attacking the lane all night long. The good news is the Horns were constantly tossing the ball eight rows into the stands so Kansas typically got a second crack at things and more often than not, made them pay.
Individually there were some great takeaways from the Jayhawk side of things last night. First and foremost Marcus Morris is a player. Nine games into conference play and you could argue that he's the most productive and valuable player to this team. That might be a stretch considering the clutch play of Sherron and the game changing defense of Cole, but Marcus certainly makes a very good argument for himself on a consistency level. 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists for McMorris last night a very solid showing.
Moving down the list, the much talked about Xavier Henry. I don't know if this guy reads Rock Chalk Talk or if it's just a coincidence that he seemed to do much of the things discussed around here. Xavier is struggling with his jump shot, last night he did all the other things. He effectively attacked the basket and whether it resulted in points from him or drawing in defenders and making the extra pass, Xavier was creating points. 15 points, 5 boards, 2 assists and I honestly thought it would breakdown better. Watching the game he just seemed to be doing the right things at the right time.
Next up, the good Morri. Not the great Morri, because that title belongs to Marcus, but Markieff was very productive off the bench and his 8 points, 9 boards and 3 blocks is exactly what Kansas needs him to do as the big man off the bench in the rotation. For those keeping score at home, Morri stateline...26 points, 17 boards, 4 assists and three blocks.
Obviously Cole and Sherron still played a role, but the above three were pretty instrumental in keeping Texas at arms length all night long. When Cole was out, the drop off wasn't as steep because of Markieff. When Sherron wasn't able to get his offense going, Marcus and Xavier made plays. It was one of those nights that the roles seemed to fit and the players found a groove. If Sherron and Cole can hit their stride at the same time as these other pieces, Kansas will be extremely tough for anyone.