Exactly one month ago, Kansas defeated then-No. 4 Texas at home in an upset that shook up the Big 12 and propelled the Jayhawks to the top of the conference standings. The Longhorns, who haven’t lost since, got their chance for revenge Saturday.
Despite mostly-solid play, Kansas fell to No. 5 Texas in four sets (20-25, 25-23, 18-25, 18-25). The problems that have plagued the Jayhawks and slid them out of first place since the original match against the Longhorns were largely absent; Texas was simply the better team when it mattered.
"Effort was there, but time execution wasn't,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said per a Kansas Athletics press release. “We had 20 unforced errors and (Texas) had three. We had four more kills, five more blocks and five more digs, but a few to many hitting errors."
Kansas swung for a .248 hitting percentage, a clip that could be more efficient, but based off games in the recent past, certainly comes as an improvement. Defensively, the Jayhawks were true to their ways up front as they out-blocked the Longhorns 10-to-5.
But while the net play was strong, Kansas’ defense struggled elsewhere. Texas finished swinging for a .363 figure, registering just 13 errors. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had 25.
The match opened fairly close, with the Longhorns controlling the first set but not creating much separation. After taking a 2-1 lead in the first few moments, they wouldn’t look back, although they never led by more than six points.
The Jayhawks would respond in the next frame, however. A back-and-forth affair brought things to a 22-22 tie late, after an attack error from junior hitter Jada Burse surrendered Kansas’ lead and prompted Bechard to call timeout.
Burse came out of the break and delivered the go-ahead kill, and added another to re-gain the lead two points later. Now leading 24-23, junior middle blockers Zoe Hill and Mmachi Nwoke closed out the set with a block on Texas star hitter Micaya White.
The Longhorns wouldn’t fold any further though. They controlled the third set with relative ease, never trailing and holding a comfortable lead after breaking through early en route to a 25-18 win.
Kansan sports editor Braden Shaun names the athletes of the week in Kansas men's basketball junior center Udoka Azubuike and volleyball's senior setter Gabby Simpson.
The fourth and final set unfolded in almost identical fashion. The score was the same, 25-18, and Texas controlled Kansas the whole way. A service error from freshman middle blocker Rachel Langs sealed defeat.
Burse finished with a match-high 19 kills on a solid .286 percentage. Her counterpart, junior hitter Ashley Smith, wasn’t far behind with 13 kills a on .206 clip. Senior setter Gabby Simpson also performed well, racking up 45 assists, her highest total since transferring to Kansas.
Hill had an especially productive night offensively as well, logging 14 kills on a robust .444 percentage. She also finished with four blocks, combining with Langs and Nwoke who each had five to solidify that strong front line.
With just four matches left in the regular season, the Jayhawks now sit at 15-8 overall and 8-4 in the Big 12. They’re currently tied with Baylor for second place, but the Bears still have a date left with the Longhorns, so one would think if the Jayhawks can win out they would have a good chance at finishing in sole possession of second.
Winning out would also lend Kansas some serious momentum heading into the postseason. This team has shown that it’s as good as anyone in the country when it’s hot, but one that struggles mightily when it’s not.
Carrying the steam of a few victories into the NCAA tournament would be invaluable, especially considering the Jayhawks will almost certainly be playing on the road.
They’ll look to begin a winning streak relatively quickly, as they have just a four-day turnaround until Kansas State comes into Lawrence on Wednesday in what serves as a potential revenge game for the Jayhawks. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m.