AUSTIN — Xavier Henry looked every bit the giddy freshman in the moments after Kansas' 80-68 victory over Texas, smiling wide and radiating a glow unseen from Henry since December.
"If you knew me, I smile like 24-7 anyway," Henry said, "because I'm glad to be in this position. I am glad I had a good game."
Henry tried his best to play it off, but that could only last so long after his 15 points (six in the final seven minutes) helped the Jayhawks take full control of the Big 12 race Monday night.
"It's been a long time coming," Henry said. "I've been playing a little down. People say I've been in a slump. I haven't been shooting the ball that well. Tonight, I just tried to play hard and work with the team; and it came out well. So I'm happy."
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Henry, the once-coveted prep guard who had the KU diehards monitoring his every move during his high school career in Oklahoma City, made everything look easy during nonconference play. He scored 27 in the season-opener against Hofstra and 31 against La Salle and led the Jayhawks in scoring for much of the first few months.
But then Big 12 play hit, and Henry was a different player, mostly because a player who had always defined himself as a shooter wasn't making any shots. Entering the Texas game, Henry had made 29 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 27 percent from three-point range, and was averaging 7.9 points. He had scored in single digits five straight games.
Henry was forced to learn how to become a more complete player.
"I've been playing defense lately as hard as I can because my offense hasn't been going," Henry said, "because I gotta bring something to the team. I've been playing hard on defense and the intangibles, just rebounding and trying to outwork my opponent."
For a likely one-and-done college player like Henry, that year in college is what you make of it. And with seven minutes left in the Texas game, Henry showed how seriously he is taking his stop in Lawrence.
With KU leading 55-40 and Texas trying to make a run, Henry grabbed a Tyshawn Taylor miss, then rebounded his own missed attempt and converted a layup. A few minutes later, Henry grabbed a Collins miss, which ended up leading to a Markieff Morris three-point play after Henry missed his layup attempt. Henry would make two free throws and a layup, finishing in double digits for the first time since Jan. 20.
"I thought Xavier played the best game he's played in league play by far," KU coach Bill Self said. "He and Marcus (Morris) were by far our two best players today. He was good and Marcus was great. I would have never thought we could come to Texas and win and have our two best players go five of 23."
Sherron Collins was 3 for 13 from the field and scored 15 points, and Cole Aldrich made 2 of 10 and scored seven.
Morris has established himself as one of KU's star players in league play. If Henry could join him, the Jayhawks could be as unstoppable as they were when they went on a 22-0 run in the first half against the Longhorns.
Henry was having so much fun, he wasn't really aware of such details.
"I didn't even know we went on a 22-0 run," Henry said. "I was just excited to be playing. I just knew we were scoring and playing good defense."