COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Really, seriously, how did the Kansas Jayhawks do it this time, with Sherron Collins shooting poorly for the fifth straight game, Marcus Morris on the bench for 20 minutes because of foul trouble and the Texas A&M Aggies outrebounding them 41-33?
KU's first loss of the Big 12 season was all set up. Reed Arena was rocking, Texas A&M led by four with 5 minutes, 20 seconds left, and the Jayhawks had labored throughout. All A&M had to do was actually go out there and beat Kansas.
Easier said than done, apparently: Kansas 59, Texas A&M 54.
The Jayhawks finished the game on an 11-2 run, with seven points coming at the free-throw line. Marcus Morris made four of four in one-and-one situations, and Xavier Henry made three of four — including the two that iced the game.
On Monday night in front of a record crowd of 13,657, KU took a huge step toward winning its sixth straight Big 12 regular-season championship — and doing it with an unbeaten league record for the first time since 2002. The top-ranked Jayhawks, now 25-1 overall and 11-0 in the Big 12, have won four road games against current top-25 opponents (Temple, Kansas State, Texas and Texas A&M), which is the most of any team in the country.
Certainly, KU backed up its perch at the top by winning a game so muddy the Jayhawks probably could have used extra-long showers. Three guys — Henry, Morris and Cole Aldrich — scored 12 points and helped the struggling Collins, who had just seven points on two-of-nine shooting.
If you think people in Texas don't care about basketball, you may be right in general, but Texas A&M fans showed Monday night that they can at least give it their all for one night. Students camped out outside Reed Arena for the best seats on Sunday night and were ready to bring the creativity one wouldn't expect from a student body known for its engineering prowess.
One male fan dressed up as "Longhorn girl," who gained Internet fame by sitting behind the KU bench during the Texas game last Monday night. College Station's Longhorn girl was even more well-endowed and had his beer belly protruding without shame, and he greeted KU coach Bill Self as he walked onto the floor before tipoff. Self smiled, pointed at him and said, "That's good."
It was good because Self knew at that point that Reed would be spirited. And when you consider that Texas A&M had never been host to a No. 1 team before, it was no shock that the building felt a little bit like Kyle Field, chanting and swaying with their passion for Aggieland.
Texas A&M came into this one hoping to pull within two games of first place in the Big 12. The Aggies started out hot and took a 16-12 lead behind the efforts of senior guard Donald Sloan, who had 12 first-half points on five-of-10 shooting. KU tried to guard Sloan with Collins, Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor, and none could do the job.
While Sloan put the Aggies on his back, Collins couldn't match for the Jayhawks. Collins didn't make a field goal and had just three points and three turnovers with no assists.
Maybe it was just an off night for him, maybe it was just an off night for everyone other than Sloan. In the first half, the teams combined for 12 assists and 15 turnovers. That, of course, is how the scrappy Aggies could beat mighty Kansas: Turn it into a game for junkyard dogs.
Former KU guard Mark Turgeon, the coach of the Aggies, has certainly taught his team toughness. Texas A&M, although largely undersized, outrebounded KU 19-13 in the first half.
The Jayhawks stayed in the game thanks to the play of their big men. Marcus Morris and Aldrich each had six first-half points, and Markieff Morris added five points and four rebounds.
In the second half, KU's offensive effort was hindered when Marcus Morris picked up his fourth foul at the 13:37 mark. He has been KU's most consistent offensive threat during the Jayhawks' 10-0 start to Big 12 play, and without him they would have to find another way. Considering Collins' struggles to get going, it seemed Morris' exit from the floor could be the Jayhawks' undoing.
Still, KU found a way to stay close. Texas A&M led 41-38 when Morris left and 6 minutes later trailed just 48-46.
When crunch time came, all eyes turned to Collins. He has made the shots that count so many times during his KU career — to the point it's easy to expect it to happen again. But Collins has not been the same player since KU's gritty win at Kansas State, when he played through cramps. In the four games since, entering Monday, Collins had made just 18 of 55 shots (32.7 percent).