J.R. Giddens led all scorers with 17, including 3-for-4 from beyond the three-point line and 6-for-8 overall.
“We’re very happy to have won the game, but I’m not totally ecstatic with the way we played,” assessed Coach Bill Self. “I didn’t think we were very fluid, offensively, but we made shots. We did a lot of good things tonight. We did have great energy defensively and rebounding the basketball but we have to play better on the offensive end than we did tonight,” he said.
KU got off to a slow start, leading 8-6 at the first media timeout. However, the ‘Hawks proceeded to go on a 14-2 run against the outmanned, outsized Flames, going ahead 22-8 and never really looking back.
The game was not without its tense moments, though. With 6:32 left in the first half, Wayne Simien’s leg seemed to buckle on the defensive end. He fell to the floor, having re-aggravated his groin injury.
“When Wayne goes down, he’s a big part of our team. So I was kind of breathless,” J.R. Giddens said, postgame. “I knew he was going to get up, but I was still like, ‘Please, please get up, Wayne.’”
Simien thinks he stepped on a wet spot on the floor.
“I dove for a loose ball on that spot earlier. I guess they didn’t get the water cleaned up and it came up and got me,” he theorized.
Simien was attended to briefly on the floor but left for the locker room under his own power. The Leavenworth junior got a tremendous ovation when he came out of the locker room for the second half. He did play, but according to Coach Self, his availability for Sunday was unknown after the game.
Simien downplayed the slip and injury, saying, “It’s tournament time, and this is the same thing I’ve been fighting with all year. I don’t know why I wouldn’t be able to fight through it now,” Simien said.
The other tense moment came with 13:10 left and KU leading 48-37. Keith Langford drove the lane and was fouled hard by UIC’s Armond Williams. The officials ruled it a flagrant foul, and the play seemed to ignite the Jayhawks.
Langford made the two free throws, and on the ensuing possession, J.R. Giddens buried a three-pointer to make the score 53-37. In the next 6:06, KU went on a 21-2 run that put the game away.
UIC’s star Cedrick Banks was held in check with 15 points – four under his season average – on just 5-18 shooting and 3-10 from beyond the arc.
Four Jayhawks – Mike Lee, Keith Langford, J.R. Giddens and Jeff Hawkins – split time chasing the perpetually-moving Flames guard, and coach Self was very pleased with the job they did.
Self said, “They did a good job against Cedric. We lost him a couple of times – you’re going to lose him some because he runs off screens hard. We lost him a couple of times for easy threes at the start of the second half, but after that I thought they did a nice job. The key was making [Banks] shoot at least semi-guarded shots.”
Martell Bailey, the #2 assist man in the country, scored 11 points but was held to five assists to go along with three turnovers.
Next up for KU is 12-seed Pacific, upset winners over Providence, 66-58. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:40 PM (Central) Sunday.
Photo courtesy: (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)