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March 11, 2006
In January, Kansas beat Nebraska by 42 points. In February, the Jayhawks won by 21. Maybe they're slipping. In Saturday's second Big 12 tournament semifinal, KU sent the Cornhuskers packing by a score of 79-65.
The game was never close after the opening ten minutes. Tied at 13, a 3-pointer by Brandon Rush kick-started an 18-4 Jayhawks run. It was the only field goal Rush made until 6:50 remained in the game, but his Jayhawks teammates picked up the slack.
"I don't think we played probably with the same energy we played last night, but we made shots, and when you make shots you always look a little bit better offensively," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "We didn't play a lot better than Nebraska, we just shot the ball better."
The play of the guards and six first half 3-pointers helped open things up down low for Kansas. Darnell Jackson came through with a breakout performance, scoring 13 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
"In the first half, we were playing kind of soft," Jackson said of the Jayhawks' big men. "I shot a fade-away jump shot. That's not my game. I'm a physical player, so I love contact. They got in foul trouble and they knew they couldn't foul or they would foul out of the game. All they could do is wall up and it gave the big men a chance to just turn around and shoot a jump hook."
The Cornhuskers were done in by poor shooting. They made just nine of 27 first-half shots and finished the game shooting 37.5 percent. After winning two close games to make its first semifinal appearance in eight years, Barry Collier's team ran out of gas.
"I think we had a good energy level," said Wilkinson. "We knew we had to come out and play with heart because it's difficult to play three games in three days. It was a mental challenge and I felt like we were ready."
"We're not looking for excuses," Collier said. "It's a factor, but they played a game yesterday as well. One thing, as the coach of this team, I know that they want to keep playing."
Nebraska got as close as 12 in the second half when Wes Wilkinson hit two free throws to make the score 55-43. That capped an 11-2 Husker run. But Kansas responded with the next six points and was not threatened again.
The Jayhawks will face Texas in the tournament final at 2 p.m. (Central) Sunday. Kansas is looking for its first tournament crown since 1998 - when the Jayhawks won their third in a row.
Nebraska is 19-13 and will likely get an NIT invite. The rumors about Collier's job security have swirled all weekend and did not go away despite the two wins.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm the coach at Nebraska until I hear different and I don't know any more than that," Collier said. "I just try to coach our team and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to do that. We're going to keep our fingers crossed for a nod on Sunday night to play, and that's where my focus is going to be."