AUSTIN, Texas - Kansas had already won the Big 12 championship by the time the Jayhawks made their last trip of the season down to Texas.
The Longhorns sent them home with a message: The league tournament promises to be every bit as rugged as the regular season.
Sir’Jabari Rice scored 23 points and a smothering defensive effort carried No. 9 Texas to a 75-59 win over No. 3 Kansas on Saturday that earned the Longhorns a second-place finish in the Big 12.
Texas entered the day in a three-way tie for second, but the win and losses by Kansas State and Baylor left the Longhorns alone in the spot. A loss at TCU four days earlier denied Texas a chance to earn a share of the league title.
"We wanted confidence going into postseason," Rice said. "We had to get ourselves focused and re-centered (after the losses)."
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 04: Texas Longhorns guard SirJabari Rice (10) dribbles past Kansas Jayhawks forward Jalen Wilson (10) during the game at the Moody Center in Austin, TX on March 04, 2023. (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Tyrese Hunter made 9 of 10 free throws and scored 20 points for the Longhorns (23-8, 12-6).
Big 12 scoring and rebounding leader Jalen Wilson led Kansas (25-6, 13-5) with 23 points and 10 boards as the Jayhawks’ seven-game win streak ended.
Texas swarmed Kansas with a defensive effort that frustrated Wilson and the Jayhawks from the opening tip.
Kansas scored just 12 points over the first 12 minutes and missed nine of 12 3-point attempts in the half. Wilson, who scored just two points when Kansas beat Texas on Feb. 6, struggled to find open shots or even open passes.
Hunter made consecutive deep 3-pointers late in the half as Texas built a 32-24 lead at the break.
The Longhorns quickly stretched the lead in opening minutes of the second half. Dylan Disu scored the first five points after halftime, and Rice’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 15.
Kansas got within eight when Gradey Dick made consecutive 3-pointers, his first baskets of the game, before Texas answered with six consecutive points. Rice then ran off seven straight points, including a 3-pointer from the left corner, and Texas led 68-52 with 3:30 to play.
Rice scored his 23 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
"Texas was turned up. Defensively they made us play outside our comfort zone," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We weren’t any good. We got what we deserved today."
Kansas: The Big 12 champs won a league many consider the toughest in the country and are still a contender for a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. The defending national champions head into the Big 12 tourney having won nine of their last 12.
"Our season is really just beginning now," Wilson said. "We’re playing for a lot, trying to get a No. 1 overall seed. You can’t get too high after wining the conference and can’t get too low after a loss like this."
Texas: Interim coach Rodney Terry’s future with the program was probably always going to depend on the Longhorns’ postseason success. He might have eased that pressure had Texas won at least a share of the program’s first conference title in 15 years. But finishing second with an emphatic win over the league champ is better than many would have predicted when Texas fired coach Chris Beard in midseason.
"My message is to continue to be a hungry team," Terry said. "I think we have a team as good as anybody."
Saturday was the senior-day sendoff for five Texas players. The Longhorns have one of the oldest lineups in college basketball.
Marcus Carr is in his sixth season, and Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop and Rice are fifth-year players. Dylan Disu completed his fourth season. They account for an average of 54 points and 19 rebounds per game.
Texas went 16-1 at Moody Center, the new arena that replaced the 45-year-old Erwin Center. One big change was to move the student section behind the team benches.
"We’ve created a home court (advantage) at Texas basketball. People know if they come into Moody, it’s going to be hard to get a win," Terry said. "The environment we’ve crated here, our guys love playing here."
The Big 12 Tournament starts Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas will be the No. 1 seed. Texas will be No. 2.