Aggies fall to No. 3 Kansas in Big 12 tournament

Texas A&M forward David Loubeau (10) is trapped by Kansas forward Thomas Robinson (0) and center Jeff Withey (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 Conference tournament on Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

March 8, 2012 4:25:27 PM PST
Khris Middleton is accustomed to winning. So are most of the guys at Texas A&M, which rose to prominence under Billy Gillispie and remained a force under Mark Turgeon.

That's why Middleton sat at the dais after an 83-66 loss to No. 3 Kansas on Thursday and tried his best to avoid burying his head in his hands. The Aggies began the season with hopes of a Big 12 title, and ended it with a blowout in the quarterfinals of the league tournament.

"I've been here for three years and never lost this many games," Middleton said.

Middleton did his part with 24 points for the Aggies (14-18), but he didn't get a whole lot of help. Leading scorer Elston Turner was held to eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.

The 18 losses under first-year coach Billy Kennedy are the most for Texas A&M since 2004, the final year of Melvin Watkins' tenure. Texas A&M won 21 games under Gillispie the following season, the start of the longest period of sustained success for the program since the 1970s.

Kennedy hopes for a similar turnaround next season, when the Aggies break with several of their traditional rivals and join the Southeastern Conference.

"You kind of reap what you sow," Kennedy said. "We had some definition at the end of the season we didn't have three or four weeks ago, or a month and a half ago."

Kennedy got a pretty good glimpse of how far the Aggies have to go against Kansas.

Elijah Johnson scored a career-high 26 points Thursday. Robinson finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and All-Big 12 guard Tyshawn Taylor added 16 points as the Jayhawks (27-5) advanced to face No. 12 Baylor in the semifinals on Friday night.

"They're so talented, it's a joke," said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team won both their regular-season games against Baylor. "It'll be an interesting next 24 hours to get ready."

The Jayhawks have won nine straight overall, including a thrilling overtime victory against Missouri. They improved to 15-1 in their opening game at the Big 12 tournament, and are 14-2 in quarterfinal match-ups, their last loss coming to Baylor in the 2009 quarterfinals.

The same team they'll face Friday night.

"All I know is we play Baylor tomorrow," Robinson said. "That's about it."

Early on, it didn't look like things would be nearly so easy for top-seeded Kansas against the No. 9 seed Aggies, who were coming off a victory about 16 hours earlier.

Texas A&M clamped down on Robinson in the post and flustered Taylor in the backcourt while inching out to an early advantage. Middleton provided the offense for the Aggies, scoring 14 of his points in the first half as Texas A&M established a 21-17 lead.

Middleton's basket with 8:48 left wound up being the high point for the Aggies.

Robinson got on track with a basket inside to start the Jayhawks on a 13-0 run, ultimately giving them the lead for good. Johnson knocked down a pair of 3s during the spurt, and Taylor's signature floater in the lane with 4:19 left gave Kansas a 30-21 advantage.

Middleton stemmed the tide with a three-point play, but it was only a speed bump for the Jayhawks, who pushed the lead to 38-24 on Taylor's back-to-back 3-pointers.

They scored on 10 of their first 11 possessions of the second half to put the game away.

Johnson started the clinching run with a jumper in the opening seconds, and after Withey made one of two free throws, Robinson knocked down a 3 from the top of the key -- the bruising forward improved his career mark to 5 of 12 from beyond the arc.

The Jayhawks, who met Texas A&M in the semifinals two of the past four years, improved to 20-1 against the Aggies in the final meeting as members of the same league.

"If they had their full complement of players all year, that would be an NCAA tournament team, no question," Self said. "The one thing they've labored with all year is scoring, because they haven't had all their parts."

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