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Rush's 28 points lead Kansas to Big 12 final

Mar 16, 2008 - 1:28 AM KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Ticker) -- No. 5 Kansas went to Brandon Rush in the crunch to set up a rematch with Texas.

Rush scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half as the second-seeded Jayhawks defeated sixth-seeded Texas A&M, 77-71, in the Big 12 Conference semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

Darnell Jackson scored 14 points and Sherron Collins added nine off the bench for Kansas (30-3), which will face top-seeded Texas in Sunday's championship game. The No. 8 Longhorns advanced with a 77-49 rout of Oklahoma earlier on Saturday.

"We'll be excited to play Texas," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "I think it is pretty fitting, to be real candid with you, that Texas and Kansas play. I think these two programs have had the best seasons and I think it's great for our league to have the two best teams get a chance to hook up and play on Sunday."

The Longhorns and Jayhawks had an equal number of wins in Big 12 regular-season play, but Texas captured the top seed in this tourney by defeating Kansas, 72-69, in Austin on February 11.

The Jayhawks, who are looking to win their third straight Big 12 tournament, reached the 30-win mark for the second consecutive season.

With the score knotted at 34-34 at the break, Rush spurred Kansas by scoring eight points on a 15-7 run to start the second half - capping the burst with a 3-pointer at 14:42. A 6-6 junior, Rush connected on 9-of-13 shots from the floor, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range.

"When Brandon is playing well, everybody is plays well," Jayhawks Kansas guard Russell Robinson said. "And he got us off to a great start. He hit great shots and kept us in the game when we weren't doing too good on offense. Hopefully he can play like that more often."

However, the Aggies chipped away throughout the half, cutting their deficit to 65-63 on a 3-pointer by Beau Muhlbach with 5:20 left.

"Everybody (in the huddle) was saying (the Aggies) just wouldn't go away," Jackson said. "When (Texas A&M forward) Bryan (Davis) threw up that (3-point shot with 7:56 left) as the shot clock expired and it went in of the glass I thought it would be a long, tough game. But we kept grinding and grinding, and came out with a victory."

Rush immediately answered with five straight points - including a basket from the arc with 4:03 remaining.

"I thought Brandon was as good today as I've ever seen him," Self said. "And we've seen him have some good performances.

"The thing that I'm most proud of, that I like about Brandon, is he didn't play at all yesterday and for him to come back from that is a good sign for him and he needed it. He needs to have some breakout games when it counts the most and certainly this is one of those type of games. We were watching an NBA guard out there today."

Texas A&M had one more run, cutting the Kansas lead to 73-71 on a pair of foul shots by Dominique Kirk with a minute to go.

"I got on our guys pretty good," Aggies coach Mark Turgeon said. "We just want to play with toughness and compete, and that's what I challenged them to do. We came out late in the game and got some stops - we didn't get many - but we got some there near the end but unfortunately it was too late."

Yet, a layup by Robinson and two free throws by Rush iced the game for the Jayhawks.

"We just wanted to take as much time off the clock as we could and get a good look," Robinson said. "We got the ball to the side and had an easy layup."

Darrell Arthur had seven points and seven rebounds and Robinson handed out seven assists for Kansas, which shot 54 percent (28-of-52) in winning its sixth straight.

Davis had 16 points and seven rebounds and Joseph Jones scored 11 of his 14 in the first half for the Aggies (24-10), who shot 44 percent (24-of-54) in losing to the Jayhawks for the 12th time in the last 13.

"I'm really, really proud of my players," Turgeon said. "We pushed a No. 1 (NCAA) seed to their limit in front of their home fans. There was no quit in us. We kept fighting throughout."

Sunday's game will be the third straight matchup for the Big 12 tournament championship between Kansas and Texas, with the Jayhawks winning both of the previous meetings.

"It is going to be a great game," Jackson said. "I know a couple of guys on their team said they had an eye out for us, that they were ready to play us in the championship game. So I guess it is just going to come down to us like it was last year and the year before."