KU Finally Tested

Yes, KU was undefeated beating opponents by an average of over 40 points a game but this was truly the first litmus test of the season. The Jayhawks came away with a win against a ranked opponent and a ton of positives.

On Sunday night, a day after a quality 87-79 win against a ranked Arizona Wildcat team, Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked how he felt his team played on a scale of 1 to 10.

"6", he answered.

Already a positive sign when you can beat a quality opponent without having your best stuff. When asked for the assessment behind the "6" rating Self gave his team he said "we didn't defend well, but played well and smart the last 10 minutes."

Forty and fifty point blowouts are fun and even relaxing but they don't tell you a whole lot about a basketball team looking to fill roles and form an identity. That's why the Jayhawks were salivating at the thought of being tested by a ranked opponent

Early on it looked like KU would be involved in another walkover as it impressively built a 16-point lead in the first half with effective offense. But after watching both Morris twins battle foul trouble and seeing Arizona scratch and claw all the way back to take a lead it turned out to be the tight test KU needed.

 "We were so good early but when you make shots the tendency is to relax defensively and we did that very well," KU head coach Bill Self said after the game. "It was good for us to get behind in the second half and see what we're made of and I think our guys responded very well."

Kansas didn't have much of a response for Arizona big man Derrick Williams. Willaims scored 27 points in only 29 minutes of action. According to Self no one would argue who the best player on the floor was on Saturday night and KU caught a break when Williams fouled out and spent the stretch run on the sideline.

"He's great. He's a pro. We couldn't guard him. One of the keys to the game was their big guy fouled out and ours didn't. But he's terrific," Self told reporters.

But a big reason why KU came away victorious was that it did get the responses it needed from its bench and last year's role players showed they are ready to contribute when it counts this season.

Travis Releford (10 points in 18 minutes) and Thomas Robinson (14 points in 19 minutes) were two players forced into more action because of Markieff, who played just five minutes in the first half, and Marcus, who picked up his fourth foul with 16 minutes left in the game.
"We're much better when those two play. Marcus obviously played more than Kief but I thought Thomas and Travis were great," Self said praising two of his reserves. "Thomas was really good off the bench and he bailed us out a few times."

Robinson not only bailed out his team he made a highlight reel one-handed dunk that is the play of the season thus far. Tyshawn Taylor lobbed a pass with less than five minutes left in the game that Robinson was forced to go way above the rim for – somehow he corralled it with one hand and sent it home with force providing a momentum boost and a crowd-pleasing reaction.

"Thomas had an unbelievable play on that lob," Self said. "I don't know how he caught that one. That wasn't a great pass but that was a big time play."

It was by far the flashiest of Robinson's hard-earned 14 points. The 6-8 sophomore forward is beginning to catch the attention of NBA scouts and is starting to find a niche in Self's rotation.

Robinson wasn't the only highlight for KU. There was a list of players who came up big with the game on the line. Tyrel Reed, who was a bit cold from the perimeter made a couple of driving hoops during a run that saw the Jayhawks take the lead back for good. Tyshawn Taylor rebounded from what Self said was a "bad" first 25 minutes" to perform "great down the stretch". Elijah Johnson and Mario Little proved their worth too.

"It was good," Self responded when asked how it felt to win a close game. "We won and we had to make some plays to do it. We played smart down the stretch and attacked the basket and got relatively easy shots and forced them to foul. But this will be a good teaching tape, a lot of things we can get better on."

Spoken like a true coach.

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