Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 2/23/12
COLLEGE STATION, Texas Billy Kennedy called it a gamble, and it was a simple bet. The truth was that he was faced with two choices: 1) Play Thomas Robinson straight up with David Loubeau and see what happened. 2) Do something else and see what happened. He chose No. 2, obviously. Truth be told, it should have worked and quite nearly did. With 40 seconds left, Robinson had 10 points and Texas A&M had chipped No. 4 Kansas' 21-point lead to four. By now, you know how this story ends. Kansas wins. And Kansas (23-5) won 66-58 Wednesday night in College Station because sometimes you watch the roulette wheel come up black seven times in a row and you cast your bet and then, dagnabbit, it lands on red. Kansas guard Elijah Johnson had been coming up empty a lot lately. He hadn't scored more than 12 points since Dec. 22 and was shooting 28 percent from the 3-point line in Big 12 play. Never bet against a streak, they say. "We took a chance," Kennedy said, "trying to take Robinson away." The boom went bust. Or was it the other way around? Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor both conference player of the year contenders -- combined for just three points in the first half, but Johnson scored 18. Outside of Johnson, the Jayhawks shot 6-for-22 in that half. Outside of Johnson, Kansas might have had 20 points or so at the half. Outside of Johnson, who knows, the Big 12 race might have been tied again by the end of the night. But there was Johnson, and his 21 points led a Kansas team that now can clinch at least a share of its eighth-consecutive Big 12 championship by beating Missouri on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. "That's the mark of a good team that's got talented players," Kennedy said. Kansas supposedly is not a deep team this season, and not even Kansas would argue against that. Going to the bench can sometimes be like stepping off a cliff. But Johnson, KU's fifth-leading scorer, was at one time a top-30 recruit. He had scored 20 points just one other time this season and, though he is an explosive leaper, his offensive game depends largely on 3-pointers. The trouble for him has been that after making 40 percent of his 3s a year ago he entered Wednesday's game shooting 29 percent from the arc. His shooting Wednesday was timely, but mostly in retrospect. It did not seem like a big deal with seven minutes left, when Kansas led by 18, but without it the Jayhawks would have walked out of Reed Arena with everybody wondering if they had been looking past A&M to their showdown with No. 3 Missouri. It is a revenge game and could be the final basketball installment of a rivalry which dates back to the Civil War. "I've been waiting for Saturday to come since we played them last time," Taylor said. Missouri won that game in Columbia, Mo., and at the time took control of the conference. But the Tigers lost at home to Kansas State on Tuesday, which means a Kansas win Saturday in Lawrence would give the Jayhawks a two-game lead with two to play. For most of the final seven minutes, Kansas looked like it was about to blow it, too. The Jayhawks had played several minutes without stars Taylor and Robinson, but by the 2:08 mark, with KU leading by just four, they were both back in for the salvage job. Taylor immediately made a driving and-one play to put Kansas up seven with 1:57 left, a play Kennedy said he thought was a charge. The Aggies answered with a 3 by Dash Harris to draw the spread back to four, and the 6,868 in attendance rose to their feet. The Aggies last chance came with 40 seconds left, when after a fight for a loose ball Robinson was called for a technical and fouled out. That was one bad play, but Kansas coach Bill Self said he'd seen plenty of bad attitude from his team. "When you make plays you know nobody wants you to make and it doesn't bother you," he said, "that's a bad sign for a basketball team." Elston Turner made two free throws to make it a four-point game, but because it was a tie-up Kansas got the ball. Johnson missed two free throws but Zach Kinsley's 3-pointer missed with 30 second left and Kansas survived. Thanks to Johnson coming up hot. "It definitely still feels good to do something good on the court," he said.
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