The Kansas men's basketball team took the first step in its goal of obtaining a national championship Sunday night against the Emporia State Hornets. With a talented freshman class and seasoned seniors, the Jayhawks cruised to a 115-70 exhibition victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
In his second season in Kansas, head coach Bill Self used 13 of 14 players on the roster and was pleased with the performance of his team.
"I thought we played very well," Self said. "I thought we guarded hard and we were good in transition. Of course everything looks good when you make shots, but we really shared the basketball. We were making the extra pass and guys were getting good looks."
Questions surrounded the team heading into the 2004-05 campaign regarding the fifth starter next to senior Wayne Simien and the play of the freshman class. Self decided to start Aaron Miles, Keith Langford, and Michael Lee at the guard positions. Simien and Christian Moody earned the starting nod at the post positions.
In the month of September, the Jayhawks played four exhibition games in Canada and Sunday the team was running on all cylinders. Kansas jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game and exploded in the first half for 63 points. Sophomore J.R. Giddens scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half of play. Giddens excited the crowd with highflying dunks and drained several shots behind the arc. After the game, the young star explained the show he orchestrated in front of sixteen thousand fans.
"I love the kids, so I go out there and do what I do," Giddens remarked.
With more than a minute left in the first half, Giddens reeled off eight straight points on his way to shooting 9-14 for the game.
"Coach told me to shoot the ball when I was open and I thought all of my shots were good. I set my man up and my teammates did a good job of setting picks and finding me when I was open," Giddens said.
The 2004 Jayhawks are a much deeper team with five freshmen that will provide much needed relief for the starting five. Each first year player earned minutes Sunday night and certainty provided a spark in the game.
Russell Robinson entered the contest at the 14:24 mark of the first half and quickly showed his ability to hit the outside jumper while collecting three steals on the night. Post players Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson also saw time for the Jayhawks. Jackson snagged eight rebounds, six points, and two blocks in only 15 minutes of play. C.J. Giles displayed his defensive prowess with 3 blocked shots helping the Jayhawks to 34 points off turnovers.
Giles said the freshman felt the first game jitters in front of a jam-packed Allen Fieldhouse.
"When we came in at halftime, we were all really pumped, but when we first came out, we had butterflies in our stomach. As the game went on, I started to control myself, so it was easier to deal with the crowd," Giles said.
The Jayhaws are now 5-0 in exhibition play with a game against Washburn next Sunday night a 7 p.m. Kansas begins the season with twelve home games before hitting the road to play at Kentucky in January. The No. 1 ranked Jayhawks will now face the challenge of trying to remain the top team in college basketball.