Kansas Jayhawks pick up crucial win over Texas Longhorns 88-80

The Kansas Jayhawks have relied heavily on junior forward Jalen Wilson throughout the season, specifically for his scoring prowess. Wilson entered Monday night as the leading scorer in the Big 12 and over the past six contests he was averaging 26.5 points per game.

But on a rare off-night for the All-America candidate, the rest of KU starting lineup and a select few off the bench came to the rescue, propelling the ninth-ranked Jayhawks to an 88-80 win over the No. 5 team in the nation, the Texas Longhorns.

Did Kansas coach Bill Self think it was possible to score 88 points on a night when Wilson scored just two points?

“Probably not,” Self said.

Freshman guard Gradey Dick led the offensive charge for the Jayhawks with 21 points in the win, but attempted only three three pointers (and made two) to get there. In fact, Kansas attempted just 10 triples for the game as a team.

Paint touches were the key to KU’s offensive success against Texas, something that junior guard Dajuan Harris took advantage of on his way to 17 points. He attempted 16 shots in the win, later admitting to Self is the most he’s ever taken in a competitive game.

“When [Harris] can do that and facilitate at the same time, it’s scary for our offense,” Dick said.

Harris was especially good right after tip, scoring the first points of the night and forcing multiple steals and deflections within the nascent moments of the game. That provided an energy that was missing in Saturday’s loss to the Iowa State Cyclones, and that the players agreed was vital and present on Monday.

Texas coach Rodney Terry complimented Harris’ play and aggressiveness, while Self parroted his desire to see his point guard keep maintain that aggressiveness.

“He’s gone through several games this year where his energy level didn’t look like it was aggressive, downhill,” Self said. “He needs to be aggressive, in attack mode all the time.”

Senior guard Kevin McCullar and sophomore forward K.J. Adams added 16 and 10 points, respectively, but arguably the next most important performance of the game for Kansas came from junior guard Joseph Yesufu.

Forced into a bigger role due to a rash of injuries to the Jayhawks, Yesufu made the most of it. He tied his season high with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, injecting more of that aforementioned energy with multiple fastbreak scores.

“That reminded me of the NCAA tournament 2 years ago,” Self said, regarding Yesufu’s ascent to stardom while at Drake during the 2021 NCAA tournament. “He was so aggressive, so good … I’m so happy for him.”

Yesufu said has higher goals than just recreating what he did for Drake, though.

“I’m trying to be better than I was at Drake, and I try to show it each and every night,” Yesufu said.

Kansas was shorthanded on Monday, with just eight scholarship players available. Along with long-term injuries to senior forward Cam Martin and sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe, the Jayhawks also went without sophomore guard Bobby Pettiford, sophomore forward Zach Clemence and freshman forward Zuby Ejiofor against the Longhorns.

That opened the door for a bigger, more important role for Yesufu, plus freshmen Ernest Udeh and M.J. Rice. Yesufu’s teammates said they regularly see his scoring prowess, but now they want to see it more in games.

“He is probably one of the best scorers on our team,” Harris said. “We need that out of him every game, so keep it up.”

Yesufu, Udeh and Rice all contributed to the win, with the three reserves combining for 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting with 10 rebounds.

“The bench was great, as good as they’ve been all year,” Self said.

As a team, the Jayhawks shot better than 49% for the game and nearly 52% in the second half. The Longhorns weren’t far behind, shooting 47.6% as a team.

“We knew we were going to get their best game tonight coming off a tough loss at Iowa State,” Terry said. “Give all those other guys credit, they came in and played at a very high level.”

KU showed its mettle without a big night from its best player on Monday, and it may have saved it chances to win a share of the Big 12 championship, too.

With the win, Kansas is just one game behind Texas for first place in the league standings with another meeting coming up in the season finale on March 4. Had KU lost, it would have been three games off the pace with just seven conference games remaining.

“It was as close to a must-win as you can have this early in the season to win the league,” Self said.

The Jayhawks will hit the road for their next contest, a meeting in Norman against the Oklahoma Sooners. That game is coming up Saturday at noon.

Click below to hear from Bill Self and the Jayhawks following KU’s 88-80 win over the Texas Longhorns

Bill Self

Dajuan Harris, Gradey Dick, Jospeh Yesufu

For more reaction to the Kansas Jayhawks’ 88-80 win over the Texas Longhorns, check out Mic’d Up with Jake and Fulton from noon-3:00 p.m., and 580 Sports Talk with Brendan and Dan from 3-6:00 p.m. Tuesday on 580 WIBW.