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March 15, 2008KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Brandon Rush scored a career-high 28 points in front of his home town fans, sealing the deal with two free throws in the final seconds, and No. 5 Kansas beat scrappy but outmanned Texas A&M 77-71 Saturday in the Big 12 semifinals.
The two-time defending champion Jayhawks (30-3) will meet Texas (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) for the championship for the third year in a row. Kansas and Texas tied for the regular-season title, but the Longhorns bested the Jayhawks 72-69 in their only meeting.
The Aggies (24-10) outrebounded Kansas 35-25 and hit almost 54 percent of their shots but could not stop Rush, the 6-foot-6 junior who was going to declare for the NBA after his sophomore season but was thwarted by knee injury sustained in a pickup game in May.
Rush grabbed a defensive rebound and Darnell Jackson converted it into a 72-66 lead with less than 3 minutes left, then Jackson increased the lead with a free throw.
But back came the Aggies, quickly slicing the lead to 73-71 on Beau Muhlbach's 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by Dominique Kirk with 54 seconds to go.
Russell Robinson, one of four guards who powered Kansas to its fourth straight regular-season Big 12 title, dribbled around Texas A&M's packed-in defense for a one-handed layup.
The Aggies hustled down court but Muhlbach missed a 3-pointer and Josh Carter's tip-in clanged off the rim. Mario Chalmers grabbed the rebound for Kansas, which beat the Aggies 72-55 in the regular-season finale.
With 6 seconds left, Rush was fouled and made both free throws, triggering a huge roar from the pro-Kansas crowd the Jayhawks always enjoy in Kansas City.
Jackson had 14 points for Kansas and Collins added nine. Bryan Davis had 16 points and Joseph Jones 14 for Texas A&M, which will hope to be at least the fifth Big 12 team to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
The Aggies closed out the first half on an 8-0 run, forging a 34-34 tie, with Jones getting three points and Kirk canning a long 3-pointer and following that with another a bucket.
Kansas quickly went back on top after intermission. Rush's tightly contested 5-footer went in at the 9:21 mark for a 57-49 lead. Then the teams traded 3-pointers, with four going down in a span of 1 minute, 9 seconds starting with Davis' over-the-shoulder prayer that banked in at the buzzer.
Rush came right down court and answered with a 3 from the top of the key, then Carter canned a long one for the Aggies and Sherron Collins again answered for the Jayhawks after taking a nifty pass from Chalmers, making it 63-55.