Johnson leads No. 3 Kansas in rout of Texas A&M
By DAVE SKRETTA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) When Elijah Johnson headed home over the weekend for the funeral of an uncle, the junior guard for No. 3 Kansas had steeled himself to support his family through a difficult time.
It seemed all anybody wanted to talk to him about was basketball.
"Everybody was supposed to be sad," Johnson said. "I just realized where I'm at. It's another reality check. I think that played into me. I couldn't wait to get back to school."
He couldn't wait for the Big 12 tournament, either.
Johnson hit five 3-pointers and scored a career-high 26 points Thursday, complementing yet another strong performance by Thomas Robinson and helping the Jayhawks to an 83-66 rout of Texas A&M as they pursue a third straight tournament title.
"I just needed to get a little love from my family, honestly," Johnson said. "When I went home for a little bit, I think it just gave me a little something going into March."
Robinson finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and All-Big 12 guard Tyshawn Taylor added 16 points for Kansas (27-5), which will play No. 12 Baylor on Friday.
The Bears advanced to the semifinals with an 82-74 victory over Kansas State.
"They're so talented, it's a joke," said coach Bill Self, whose team knocked off the Bears in both their regular-season games. "It'll be an interesting next 24 hours to get ready."
Texas A&M (14-18) showed glimpses of what could have been had the Aggies had their full measure of players this season. Injuries derailed a season that began with massive expectations and ended with a whimper in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
"I've been here for three years and never lost this many games," Middleton said.
The Aggies, who beat Oklahoma in the opening round, simply couldn't contain Johnson, who also knocked down a couple 3s just after whistles that didn't count.
The sharpshooter set his previous career high of 23 points early in the year against UCLA, before spending several months struggling with his shot.
"Those are the shots that he usually takes; those are the shots that he practices every day," Taylor said. "He just hit them today."
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 lead eventually swelled to more than 20 when Robinson made the first of two free throws, stole the ball after missing the second, and made one of two on his next trip to the line.
Robinson even knocked down another 3 with 5:04 remaining, the first time in his three-year career at Kansas that he's made more than one in a game.
Kansas cruised the final 12 minutes to a comfortable win.
"They demand so much help with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey that we left some guys open on the perimeter, and when they make 10 3s and Robinson hits two 3s, they're a very difficult team to beat for anybody," Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. "Kansas was very good today."
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.
The Aggies head off to the Southeastern Conference beginning next season.
"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."
Updated March 8, 2012