How good were the big fellas?
Well, begin with the biggest, baddest fella of all, 6-9, 250-pound junior Wayne Simien, who cashed 10 of 11 field goal attempts, grabbed seven rebounds and even swiped a couple of steals in 26 very efficient minutes' work. And that one missed field goal? A tip try that the Kansas stat crew counted as a shot-hey, they did give him credit for an offensive rebound on the play, at least.
Kansas coach Bill Self thought Simien was about perfect. "The great thing about Dub's performance," Self said, "is he got some easy baskets, but he made three or four from 17 feet. That's good when we can stretch the defense from that spot. I think Wayne had a great game."
Oddly, Simien's big offensive night didn't even get rolling until more than a dozen minutes into the game-he scored his 14 first-half points all in the final seven and a half minutes.
"Early in the game I wasn't getting any looks," Simien said. "I've definitely got to be more aggressive in trying to get more looks. It was a point of emphasis in the huddle. Coach mentioned it a couple of times ... getting the ball inside. The guys did a great job after that."
Special notice is due also to Simien's front court running mates, freshman David Padgett and senior Jeff Graves, who each dished three assists-the majority of their feeds directly funneled to Simien. Their aim was pretty true, too: Padgett had 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting, plus five rebounds, in 19 minutes' action; Graves was 3-for-4 for seven points, plus six rebounds in 20 minutes' play. Led by the superior inside presence of Simien, Padgett and Graves, the Jayhawks KU shot 62 percent from the floor and outscored PSU 64-24 in the paint.
"I think the way our offense is structured and the way we seal (off), we get high-percentage shots," Padgett said. "Wayne did extremely well. We were trying to get him the ball every time."
"Our big guys did a good job of feeding each other, (but) we also threw a lot away," Self said-probably recalling Graves' three turnovers, which all came on attempted feeds from out on the "high" part of the floor. "I think Padgett and Wayne right now work together better. I think right now those two have played more consistently. We need Jeff to play better and understand what we're looking for.
"I do think our three big guys are starters, but you ask me the two who played the best (together) were Padgett and Simien."
Also of note:
Junior guard Keith Langford, who was held out of KU's exhibition opener against EA Sports, started Tuesday and despite showing occasional fatigue from lost conditioning, had a solid outing with 15 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Aaron Miles had another strong game with 12 points and five assists.
Kansas began slowly but the Jayhawk defense fueled a 16-0 run midway through the first half that extended a 16-14 KU lead at 11:43 to 32-14 at 5:58. During the stretch, PSU went scoreless for more than seven minutes, finally breaking the drought on a short jumper with 4:24 left in the half. The Jayhawks finished strong, executing flawlessly on their last possession of the period, when they ran the clock down from 32 seconds and ended up with a wicked-good feed from Graves to Simien for a layup as time expired.
"We didn't play too bad early, we just had some careless turnovers." Self said. "I think in our first 10 possessions we had four turnovers and a majority of those were unforced. We missed some bunnies and the ball didn't bounce our way. So it was pretty tight early in the game. But we played pretty well during a stretch. We got to halftime okay, but not real great, then we came out in the second half and laid an egg for the first four or five minutes.
"Give them credit, it wasn't a 30-point game, it was a 20-point game. They hung in there. We were careless early and did a better job taking care of the basketball in the second half. We have got to play better and we have to make some shots. You are not going to win consistently if you don't make shots. We have got better shooters than what we are shooting right now." Indeed, as good as Kansas' inside game was against Pitt State, the Jayhawks' outside game was missing in action.
Kansas hit just three of 14 tries from outside the arc, and nobody made more than one: freshman Omar Wilkes swished his only try, fellow frosh J.R. Giddens hit one of two, and soph Jeff Hawkins was one of three. Langford, Miles, Bryant Nash, Jeremy Case and Michael Lee clanged the other eight attempts. The unimpressive showing followed an abysmal two for 10 display in last week's exhibition win over EA Sports.
While it's not time to panic by any means, clearly Kansas has to develop a reliable outside threat. Otherwise, the high-low offensive scheme will be compromised to some extent because teams will pack into zones against the Jayhawks, blanket the big guys and make the guards beat them with jumpers.
The Jayhawks return to action-this time playing for keeps-in their regular-season opener, Friday, Nov. 21st, against the UT Chattanooga Moccasins at 7 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.