#14 Texas Tech faced a much tougher test to reach the Big 12 tournament final than #6 Kansas did.
The third-seeded Red Raiders (25-8) and the top-seeded Jayhawks (27-6) will meet for the championship Saturday evening in Kansas City, Mo.
Texas Tech survived a scare against Oklahoma in the semifinals on Friday, pulling out a 56-55 victory. Earlier Friday, Kansas cruised past TCU 75-62.
The Red Raiders and Jayhawks split the regular-season series, with each team winning at home. Texas Tech prevailed 75-67 in Lubbock on Jan. 8, while Kansas’ 94-91 double-overtime victory in Lawrence on Jan. 24 was one of the best games of the Big 12 season.
The rubber match will be for the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, though both teams seemingly are locks for top-four seeds.
“We have respect for KU,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said Friday night. “Those guys are going to be tough. We battled them. We beat them at our house and took them to overtime there.
“They’re one of the best-coached teams in the country. They’re playing the best they played all year, at peak performance. We will have a little bit of time to get ready, but I promise you we will be ready to go (Saturday).”
Texas Tech almost didn’t have a chance to face Kansas.
With the Red Raiders up by two, Oklahoma’s Jacob Groves hit the first of two free throws with 7.5 seconds left but missed the second, and the ball bounced into the backcourt. The Sooners retrieved it, but Umoja Gibson was called for traveling as he headed toward the basket at the buzzer.
“It was an ugly game and OU had a lot to do with it,” Adams said. “But at the end of the day, our guys pulled it out. They believed in each other and fought hard.”
While Texas Tech had to play a highly stressful late game, Kansas had little trouble with TCU in the early game.
The Jayhawks led 44-30 at halftime and never saw the lead dip below eight points in the second half. The fans got to enjoy Mitch Lightfoot’s first career 3-pointer and a spectacular dunk from Ochai Agbaji without much pressure.
“I thought we played pretty well, consistently, the whole night,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “(We) traded baskets to start and played well from the 12-minute mark to the four-minute mark and got a cushion.
“I thought our defense was the best it’s been in a while. We didn’t rebound the ball terrific, but we got by with it tonight.”
The Kansas players were all smiles after a game in which Agbaji scored 22 points, Lightfoot had 15 and Remy Martin added 10.
Agbaji said of Lightfoot’s 3-pointer, “It’s one of those things where you see him shoot it. He kind of shot it without thinking about it. I think that was better for him to do it that way. It’s just one of those things. You’re like … just give him a pat on the butt. It was a great play.”
Now the Jayhawks will have to get serious as they face one of the best defenses in the conference, if not the country. Texas Tech ranks among the national leaders by allowing opponents just 59.9 points per game.
The winner of the rubber match will be able to cut down the nets before heading to the Big Dance.
“It would mean a lot for not only me but the program and Coach Self,” Agbaji said. “We’re focused and locked in on getting one (Saturday).”