Texas Tech got healthy enough to end a losing streak on Saturday. Now it will try to build momentum with a quick turnaround against a Kansas team that can relate to being short-handed.
The No. 23 Red Raiders entertain the No. 4 Jayhawks on Big Monday in the latest collision of ranked Big 12 Conference powers in Lubbock, Texas.
This time it’s Kansas that brings more question marks despite a physical win at home against Baylor on Saturday.
The status of two of the Jayhawks’ starters is up in the air, including former Red Raider Kevin McCullar, the leading scorer in the Big 12 (19.5 points per game). McCullar sat out the win against Baylor with a sore knee, and freshman Jamari McDowell was also in street clothes after battling illness during the week.
That left the Jayhawks (19-5, 7-4 Big 12) with seven available scholarship players and starting point guard Dajuan Harris had to be helped off the court late in the game with an ankle ailment, although he returned and delivered a huge shot in the closing minutes.
In the last two weeks and four games, Texas Tech (17-6, 6-4) has worked through a wave of sickness that swept through the team, knocked at least one player out for two games and kept first-year coach Grant McCasland away from practice at times.
That contributed to a season-worst three-game losing streak, but the Red Raiders found a way to emerge with a 66-59 win against UCF on Saturday in a gritty defensive battle. Texas Tech went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the closing 41 seconds and limited the Knights to two points in the final 2:07 after they pulled within 58-57.
“It wasn’t the most ‘pleasing to the eye’ game,” McCasland said. “Obviously, offensively there were times where I thought we did good things. We struggled, give them credit, UCF’s defense is one of the best in the country. But man, it’s fun to win a game with defense.”
The Kansas-Baylor game followed a similar script after the Jayhawks’ big early lead evaporated.
Kansas’s offense was off-kilter after the opening stages, with the two primary healthy scorers struggling in particular. Hunter Dickinson was 7-for-19 from the floor and Johnny Furphy was 0-for-6 from 3-point range.
But the Jayhawks delivered one of their defensive best games of the season with 17 steals contributing to 21 Baylor turnovers. The Bears stayed close by dominating the backboards (42-25) but gave up 17 points off turnovers.
“I was hoping the game was ugly and muddy, which it was, in large part because they turned it over and in large part because we couldn’t make shots,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
If the Jayhawks are without McCullar and Harris — their two primary ballhandlers — Texas Tech will likely attempt to pressure Kansas. Transfer Nicolas Timberlake stepped into the starting lineup against Baylor and produced eight points, but also struggled at times on defense. Former starter Elmarko Jackson played 21 minutes and could be counted on more, while McDowell would likely get minutes if he is healthy enough to go.
The Red Raiders’ strength is in their backcourt with their two leading scorers. Pop Isaacs leads the way with 16.9 points a game and Joe Toussaint provides 12.7 with a team-leading 97 assists.
Against UCF, Texas Tech big men Darrion Williams (13 points, 13 rebounds) and Warren Washington (10 points, 11 rebounds) came up big, while Kerwin Walton supplied 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point territory.