Strong bench play spurs KU to 83-50 win

LAWRENCE, Kan. – All season long, bench production has been a point of concern for the Kansas Jayhawks, but Saturday night Head Coach Bill Self got a combined 24 points from his primary reserves, helping his squad to an 83-50 victory over the visiting Texas Tech Red Raiders.

"I think they stepped up and played real well," junior Travis Releford said, of the bench. "Coach has given them that challenge to step up, and today I think they met it."

Kansas came out hot, hitting its first six shots, and shooting a scorching 57.7-percent in the first half, while holding Texas Tech to just 33.3-percent from the floor.

While Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and Jeff Withey have done the bulk of the damage on the scoreboard recently - and, really, for most of the season - Saturday was a more balanced effort. Four Jayhawks scored in double-figures, as Robinson led the way with 16 points - to go with eight rebounds and five assists - and Travis Releford, Conner Teahan and Kevin Young added 12, 11 and 10 respectively.

With a 44-22 lead at intermission, the Jayhawks came out sluggish in the second half, but maintained their hot shooting, hitting on 54.5-percent of their shot attempts. The Red Raiders heated up to 47.8-percent in the second stanza, but it made little difference in the end.

Withey had been on a highly-publicized tear during the past three games, and statistically came back to Earth a little bit versus Texas Tech with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

However, his reputation has grown to the point opponents are reluctant to enter the paint, altering their game plan because of his very presence. In fact, to Teahan's mind he's the best shot-blocker he's ever played with at Kansas - including current Oklahoma City Thunder forward Cole Aldrich.

"People can get beat off the dribble and what not, and Jeff just blocks and alters so many shots," the senior shooting guard explained. "I'm sure they see him on film and remember if they've played against him before how devastating he is down there."

"You know, Jeff is hard to score over," Self added. "I thought he impacted the game once again."

But the real story from tonight for the Jayhawks was the aforementioned production from the oft-maligned bench. For most of the season, Kansas has run seven deep, with players such as Robinson and Taylor playing more than 30 minutes per game.

Saturday, freshman point guard Naadir Tharpe played 12 minutes, his most playing time in weeks, maybe months. Teahan and Young contributed 18 and 17 apiece.

With the grueling Big 12 schedule entering its home stretch, any chance to get more time and experience for role players like Tharpe is extremely valuable - though Self won't know just how valuable until he finds out if he can turn this into a trend with the young floor general.

"He needs to be out there on the court some and tonight he had the opportunity," Self said. "He did fine, too."

Next up, Kansas travels to College Station, Texas for a mid-week tilt with the Texas A&M Aggies - and then the Border War awaits. A week from Saturday, the Jayhawks host Missouri in what could be the final edition of the storied rivalry ever played at Allen Fieldhouse.

It's human nature to anticipate big games, Self said, but they won't even mention Missouri until the hurdle of the Aggies has been cleared. They're expecting a battle in Texas.

"If you work your tail off all year long to put yourself in a good position, how can you look past anybody when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel?" Self questioned. "Especially a team that's pre-season picked to win the league and they're playing good at home. They had Missouri to a two possession game under two minutes today."


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