By Steve Lansdale
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski scored a season-high 18 points, but it was not enough as the University of Texas men’s basketball team fell, 65-57, to No. 17/18 Kansas in the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship quarterfinals on Thursday night at Sprint Center.
Kansas improved its record to 24-8 overall and 12-6 in Big 12 games, while the Longhorns fell to 16-16 overall and 8-10 against the Big 12 and now must wait until Sunday to know their postseason fate. No team with a .500 record ever has qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
“Absolutely,” Osetkowski said when asked if the Longhorns are worthy of a bid to the NCAA Tournament. “Absolutely — no question about it. Regardless of our record, every game that we played … it was there for us to win. It’s a tough place, leaving it up to the committee now, but I think we have done enough for them to see that we’re an NCAA tournament team.
Osetkowski had to shoulder much of the offensive load for Texas, which had only one other player score in double figures: guard Jase Febres, who chipped in with 11.
More important than the offensive performance of Osetkowski and Febres was the absence of offense from some of the Longhorns’ other key players: guard Matt Coleman, forward Jaxson Hayes and guard Kerwin Roach combined for just 13 points in Roach’s first game back after missing the last five for disciplinary reasons.
Perhaps most importantly, Hayes left the game with what Texas head coach Shaka Smart called “an injured knee.” Smart said he hopes it isn’t anything serious, and said that Hayes will be evaluated when the team returns to Austin.
Smart was concerned about his team’s offensive woes, but said the game was decided by the Longhorns’ transition defense.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of fight down the stretch,” Smart said. “We actually got enough stops in the latter part of the game, but we didn’t score enough points. Earlier in the half, we didn’t do a good enough getting stops, particularly in transition. I think the difference in transition baskets was one of the key factors that led to Kansas winning the game.”
Texas fell to 47-42 all-time in league championship games, including a 26-23 run in UT’s 23 appearances in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship.
Smart stopped short of saying the game against Kansas was a must-win game, but he did impress upon his team that a victory over Kansas could significantly boost the Longhorns’ chance of earning an NCAA Tournament bid.
“We talked about the fact that this was a game that … I didn’t necessarily tell the guys that it would get us in the NCAA tournament, but I told the guys that it’s a game that we had to win if we want to play in the NCAA tournament,” Smart said.
Now the Longhorns must play the waiting game while they anticipate an update on Holmes’ injury and an announcement on which teams made the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
“In terms of talking to the committee, you know, we don’t get that opportunity to speak directly to them,” Smart said when asked he would make his claim for an NCAA bid for the Longhorns. “But if you’re going to evaluate teams based on the quality of their wins, we definitely, I think, deserve strong consideration. But our focus today is on helping our guys process this game today, and what we can learn from it. We’ll practice, we’ll work on getting better. We’ve got a lot of young guys that need to learn from this game, from this experience up here, so that’s what we’ll do.
“We’ll spend a lot of time together as a team, and we know that the season’s not done. We’ll practice, we’ll work on getting better. We’ve got a lot of young guys that need to learn from this game, from this experience up here, so that’s what we’ll do. It’s no different than any other time. It just happens to be a couple days before Selection Sunday. Certainly you want to control your own destiny, and that’s the most disappointing thing about tonight.”