Ten losses, five years, two coaches, immeasurable heartbreak.
All of that pent-up emotion finally flowed free when center Jaxson Hayes corralled the final rebound, and the red lights of the backboard illuminated the Frank Erwin Center. There was joy at its purest form at the center of the arena several seconds later. Texas had finally beaten Kansas.
“Before this game, I was 0-of-7 versus KU,” senior shooting guard Kerwin Roach II said. “Now, I’m 1-7 — I’m taking it. It’s very hard to get a win versus KU.”
Prior to Tuesday night’s 73-63 triumph, the Longhorns nearly attained the feat at the Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 14. Point guard Matt Coleman dished the ball off to his backcourt partner, Jase Febres, but Febres’ final heave clanked off the rim. In a redemptive effort Tuesday night, Febres was the pioneer to guide Texas on a trail the team hadn’t walked on since 2014.
“He’s a work in progress,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “He’s still a long way from being the confident grown man that he will be by the end of his career here, so we’re just trying to continue to breathe life in him and get him to understand how good he can be.”
Faced against Kansas’ tenacious full-court press with the Jayhawks on a run, Roach dumped the ball to Dylan Osetkowski. The power forward scouted the floor and found Coleman open down the right side of the hardwood. With numbers on the fastbreak, Coleman delivered a bullet pass across the court in the corner to Febres, who connected on a three with 6:04 remaining to secure a 51-45 lead. About 90 seconds later, Febres sunk a triple from the top of the key to extend the lead to nine.
“I believe he’s a really, really good shooter,” Smart said. “If we can get him eight good looks from three like we did tonight, I like his chances of making three or four of those.”
Then, the fireworks exploded with 100 seconds remaining. Once again from the corner, Febres completed the trilogy. The shooting guard hit his third three in the final seven minutes to advance Texas’ lead to 63-56. With the lead now insurmountable, Febres’ final three will continue to ring through the halls of the Erwin Center as the shot that shattered the Longhorns’ losing streak against Kansas.
“It feels great, but it’s more about (how) we needed to win this game for us regardless of who the opponent was,” Smart said. “I think our guys had a sense of confidence going into this game because of the way we played (in Lawrence).”
Even sweeter for Texas is the snapping of another streak: a two-game losing skid. The win over No. 11 Kansas — winner of 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles — catapults the Longhorns back in the 2019 March Madness conversation. It was the statement conference win Texas has craved since Feb. 1, 2014, when a Rick Barnes-coached Longhorns team knocked off the No. 6 Jayhawks led by Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins.
After losing its fifth game in six tries at Georgia last Saturday, knocking off the conference’s kingpin and jump-starting a new win streak may be the momentum Texas needs going forward.
“We need to continue to take it one game at a time and put winning above everything,” Osetkowski said. “Tonight was a game we could have won or we could have lost. If we continue to do the right things, we can get on a roll.”