Freshman forward Mo Bamba delivered a series of dunks and alley-oops in front of a frenzied home crowd on Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center, each seemingly more difficult than the last.
But every bucket in the paint on one end turned into a 3-pointer on the other, as the Longhorns’ league-leading three-point defense was unable to stymie a deluge of Jayhawk threes.
Three Kansas players recorded at least five triples as the long-range attack from the 13-time defending Big 12 champions proved too much for Texas’ defense to handle, as the Longhorns fell 92-86 at home in the first conference game of the season.
“They had probably one of the best three point exhibitions I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bamba said. “They caught fire, and it's hard to defend. Even when you have a hand up. Even when you close out as hard as you do.”
After Texas held Alabama to 20 percent shooting from behind the arc last week, No. 11 Kansas opened the contest with a trio of quick threes and remained dialed in from deep all game, connecting on 17 of its 35 attempts. The Jayhawks’ win earned the program its 27th straight conference-opening victory.
Bamba shined in his first-career Big 12 matchup, keeping the Longhorns within striking distance as Kansas connected on nearly twice as many shots from beyond the 3-point line. The freshman forward recorded a career-high 22 points and 15 rebounds to go along with eight blocks in the loss, cementing himself as perhaps the league’s top defensive talent.
In the face of the imposing 280-pound, 7-foot frame of Kansas center Udoku Azubuike, Bamba provided Texas eleven of the team’s first 13 points on five shots at the rim, including an and-one slam to put the Longhorns ahead by one.
On the other end, Bamba swatted away shot after shot, finishing one block shy of the school record.
“He played really well,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We ask him to do so much. But his defense in the first half around the basket was terrific. He blocked shots all night long. He rebounded all night long. He got offensive rebounds. I think he’s making progress.”
Down 25-17 in the first half, sophomore guard Matt Coleman found an open look in the corner to cut the lead to five. Moments later, Bamba drained a wide-open three to put Texas within a single possession.
Bamba managed another block on the other end, and sophomore guard Andrew Jones — who had missed Texas’ last four games with a fractured wrist — tied the game with a pair of free throws.
“Everybody has to do their role,” junior guard Kerwin Roach II said. “Mo did an excellent job today defending inside and protecting the rim and the paint. All our guards need to do a better job closing out on the defensive end.”
Texas entered the locker room down 37-34, propelled by Bamba’s 16 points and eight rebounds.
Though the presence inside was as dominant as it has been all season, Texas struggled defending Kansas’ sharpshooters. The Jayhawks’ guard trio of Lagerald Vick, Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk combined for 64 points on a 16-30 shooting from deep.
“(We were) not good enough,” Smart said. “I think Kansas deserves a lot of credit for the shots they knocked down. When three guys hit 16 threes, you gotta really take your hat off to them. But we’ve defended on the perimeter really well all year. And we were not as good, obviously, defending out there. Kansas had a lot to do with that.”
The Jayhawks came out of the break and looked to pull away. A pair of threes gave them a 51-41 lead.
A Bamba slam off of an offensive board cut the lead to six with under ten minutes to play. But Graham answered as he had all night — pulling up from behind the arc and draining one.
With under four minutes remaining and Kansas pulling ahead, 81- 69, Smart received a technical for arguing a call as the Jayhawks closed it out to move to 1–0 in the Big 12 standings.
“There were a couple of stretches where we didn’t have the defensive energy that we needed to have to stop a team like Kansas,” Smart said. “To stop those runs, particularly to start the second half.”
The Longhorns continue conference play on Monday with a road contest against Iowa State.