Senior role player Lucas propels Texas into semis

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For most of the season, Jai Lucas has been the ninth man in a nine-man rotation that the Longhorns run.

His minutes would vary game by game. He played as much as 30 against Rice in December. He did not appear on the court for one second against Baylor in February.

“You never know when you are going to go in,” Lucas said. “It just happens.”

On Thursday, Lucas was the first player off Rick Barnes’ bench for the second consecutive game — a position that J’Covan Brown, Matt Hill or Alexis Wangmene usually fill.

Lucas first entered the game with 16:12 remaining in the first half after two Dogus Balbay turnovers. The score was 4-2. Nine seconds later, Lucas hit a 3-pointer. Following a Gary Johnson jumper, Lucas ran the length of the court for a layup to put Texas up 11-2, forcing Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel to call a time-out.

Lucas, a senior transfer from Florida, scored all eight of his points in the first half of Texas’ 74-54 win over Oklahoma, a win which allowed Texas to advance to the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament tonight against Texas A&M.

With Balbay not being much of an offensive threat, Lucas has become the guy who can replace him with the same mentality and effort, in addition to a better jumpshot.

But the Longhorns don’t usually rely on Lucas for scoring. He is there for his leadership.

“When he comes into the games, he calms everyone down,” said freshman Tristan Thompson. “It’s almost like Coach Barnes is on the court playing with us. He brings that whole coaching aspect of the game to us.”

When on the court, Lucas is the ball-handler. He calls the plays and creates for everyone; he has become a vocal leader of the Longhorns in his senior year.

Lucas’ voice was most heard late in the first half. His man had sagged off into the paint, and Lucas was standing all alone in the corner. He was clapping and screaming for the ball. Cory Joseph received a pass at the top of the key and turned.

“I saw his eyes look at me and I was ready to shoot,” Lucas said.

With his two 3-pointers, Lucas matched his total during the entire Big 12 season. He has continued to work on his shot but sees no change in his stroke. Instead he has worked on getting into the flow of the game.

Now, he just doesn’t have to wait as long.