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David McCormack, KU basketball eager for 'get-back' opportunity at Texas

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
David McCormack reacts after scoring during the second half of Saturday's game against Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. McCormack, who scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the 67-61 victory over the Red Raiders, says the Jayhawks are "beyond excited" for Tuesday's rematch with Texas.

LAWRENCE — Heading into Kansas basketball’s long-awaited rematch with Texas, David McCormack knows better than to give the Longhorns any unwarranted bulletin board material.

Still, after the unprecedented nature of the teams' first meeting — the Jayhawks’ 25-point loss tied a record for the program’s largest-ever margin of defeat inside Allen Fieldhouse — McCormack is more than comfortable acknowledging that this showdown carries special meaning.

“We can’t wait for that game,” said McCormack, speaking Saturday in a postgame radio interview following KU’s 67-61 home victory over Texas Tech. “You know, I can’t say much more, but we’re just really looking forward to that game, and we’re looking forward to a good get-back.”

It’s easy to understand why any Jayhawk — particularly McCormack, but more on that in a moment — would have a fire in their belly entering the 8 p.m. Tuesday clash at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Then pegged as the nation’s third-ranked team, KU suffered a historic TKO in Round 1 with the Longhorns, who prevailed 84-59 on Jan. 2 in Lawrence. Texas went 12 for 26 from 3-point range in that tilt, hitting its first six long-range tries out of halftime to turn a four-point lead into a 14-point whipping.

KU's players, Bill Self observed, were “basically done” emotionally after that barrage.

“They beat us bad,” Self said Saturday. “You don’t have to describe it. I remember it well.”

That setback represented the first in what became a 4-6 skid for the Jayhawks, who by the end of that 10-game stretch had fallen out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly 12 years. No. 17 KU (17-7, 11-5 Big 12), though, has returned to form of late, winning five straight contests to stabilize itself as it enters the final week of the regular season and its second crack at the No. 14 Longhorns (13-6, 7-5).

Redshirt freshman guard Jalen Wilson had team-highs of 20 points and seven rebounds in the first installment with Texas. The Denton, Texas, native said what sticks with him most about that contest was “how comfortable (the Longhorns) felt,” particularly from beyond the arc.

Seven Texas players hit at least one 3 and four converted multiple tries in the blowout.

“We just can’t allow that,” Wilson said. “I think we’re a whole ’nother defensive team now, so when we go down there we’ve just got to run them off the line and not let them feel comfortable (and) make them feel like there’s just a lot of pressure on them, give great defensive intensity and go from there. I think once we do that we will definitely have a better game. We definitely take pride in that.

“Having a team beat us in our gym like that is never acceptable, so it’s definitely going to give us a chip on our shoulder going to Austin.”

Texas also notched 14 fast-break points in the first meeting and outrebounded KU by 13, with the visitors holding a 26-9 edge on the defensive glass. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, hit just 3 of 23 attempts from 3-point range and shot 30.8% overall in the contest.

KU assistant coach Norm Roberts labeled the Longhorns a “very, very explosive” foe.

“We gave them too many points in transition, easy,” Roberts said. “They spread us out quite a bit. With their team and as athletic as they are, that’s tough to guard when they make shots from deep. They can really score the ball. They’re very, very athletic. So the first thing we have to do is guard. We have to guard and control our glass.”

While Texas has struggled of late — Shaka Smart's squad has played just six games since Jan. 16 and has gone 2-4 in that stretch, including last Saturday’s 84-82 home defeat to West Virginia — Self noted the Longhorns scored 53 points in the first half of that matchup with the defensively adept Mountaineers, perhaps a sign that they’re just as dangerous as they were just after New Years.

“It’ll be an exciting game for our guys,” Self said. “Certainly I think they’ll see a different Kansas team than the one they saw in January.”

Arguably no KU player is more hyped for Tuesday’s rematch than McCormack.

The Jayhawks’ 6-foot-10, 250-pound junior forward missed all four of his field goal attempts in that first contest with the Longhorns and finished with an eight-point, five-rebound whimper. McCormack was benched at the outset of the second half and played just 15 minutes in the loss.

The weeks since that defeat have been a different story, however. Arguably KU's best player since the turn of the calendar, McCormack has averaged 15.4 points on 56.2% shooting and 6.3 rebounds in the 14 games following the walloping by Texas.

McCormack, who after a 64-59 victory over Oklahoma on Jan. 9 in Lawrence acknowledged that avenging the loss to the Longhorns was “in the back of (the players’) minds still,” remarked Saturday that the Jayhawks are “beyond excited” for the opportunity that Tuesday represents.

So, then, should Texas expect to see a different version of McCormack as well?

“That’s for sure,” McCormack responded.

NO. 17 KANSAS AT NO. 14 TEXAS

Tipoff: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

Records: Kansas 17-7, 11-5 Big 12; Texas 13-6, 7-5 Big 12

Line: Texas by 2

TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3); Salina: KZUH-FM (92.7)

Up next for KU: vs. No. 2 Baylor, 7 p.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence