KU vs. Western Illinois: The Morning After

We needed this game. Sure, it wasn't Arizona or Nevada. But this team needs some games like this. The youngsters need a chance to build confidence, to learn to perform in game situations, and to get some valuable minutes on the floor together.

It's not going to be easy against St. Joseph’s on Tuesday.  It's never as easy on the road.  And the young team is probably going to be awed by playing in the Garden.  We needed to reverse the let-down after the Nevada game.  They needed to  build some sort of momentum before making this next trip.

Coach used some pretty interesting combinations.  He stated that he was unhappy with the starters - I assume mostly their lack of aggression - and he also wanted to get the freshmen some minutes.  At one time all four freshmen were on the floor with C.J. Giles.  I think Micah Downs played almost all of the second half.  Posters who have been clamoring for more time for the freshmen should be much happier this morning.

Mario Chalmers looks ready to increase his minutes on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's hard to tell because the freshmen might have one great game followed by a pretty regular one.  But he did some really good things last night.  He has some spectacular assists, played some great defense, and looked a little more relaxed shooting the ball.  He has a good perimeter stroke - it's just one more thing where he needs to build confidence.  There are many other things on his mind, being a freshman PG in charge of running the team.

Micah Downs had a pretty good overall game.  His shot was off a little, but his stroke looks great.  Some night he is going to hit 5 or 6 in a row from the perimeter.  I was impressed with rebounding.  He was in there going after the boards.  His defense isn't as bad as we all feared although it certainly can use some work.  I think he continues to earn minutes, and when he starts knocking down those shots with consistency then it will be hard to sit him.

I thought Julian Wright looked a lot more relaxed.  His biggest problem, it seems to me, is he is trying to go too fast right now.  He had a couple of nice dunks, and he made a twisting move along the baseline for a hoop.  Although he started out 1-4 from the line, he made three of his last four.  The last two looked pretty pure.  I think we will be happy with him as the year progresses.  He made some outstanding passes for assists and is always looking for the other guy.

Brandon Rush had a rather off night.  It's going to happen.  He was still going for the boards, and he was still trying to help the team.  He's got so many moves that I think once in awhile he fakes himself out.  Well, not really, but he seems to lose the ball occasionally trying to make one of those moves.  His first trey was sweet, but then he kind of lost his touch.  There are great nights ahead for him.

Giles looked much better tonight.  He was up there for some big blocks.  I understand that he was wearing a boot most of the week for a bad ankle or heel, I think, and that somewhat affected his play against Nevada.  But he seemed to move pretty well last night.  Sasha Kaun played steady, but he seemed a little tired or something, too.  He made a great catch on the assist from Mario.  Most importantly, his free throw shooting has improved so much so quickly that we won't have to sit him because of it during crunch time.  He's going to be (is) a steadying force in that lane for us.

Jeff Hawkins had his moments.  He had a great assist off the opening tip to Giles.  Later he had the long pass to Wright.  He even got the perimeter shot to go down from the corner.  But I noticed one other thing.  After one of Mario's great plays, there was a timeout.  The first one off the bench to congratulate him - Jeff Hawkins.  It's all about team, people.

Russell Robinson is going to have to do something if he is going to continue to get his minutes.  I think that thing is to be more effective on offense.  He is passing up a lot of 5 - 12 footers.  He seems to drive and dish every time.  If he would pull up and knock down a couple of those, then the defense would have to respect his ability a lot more.  They wouldn't sit back and wait for the drive.  Too often he drives, gets into the lane surrounded by defenders, and doesn't have anywhere to go with the ball.  I still believe he can score.  He came out of NYC as someone that could.  He just needs to start shooting some of those open looks.  This is the time of year to build that confidence.

Moody bashers aren't going to like what they saw last night.  Apparently Coach Self did.  Moody is the most experienced in running Coach's offense, and last night he got himself in position to score when he received the pass.  He won't start in place of Giles or Kaun, but he will get his minutes.  He has to because one or both of the big guys seem to pick up fouls.  It will be interesting to see what kind of competition that Darnell Jackson gives him for that place in the rotation.  We can go with Wright and Giles, for example, but there will be times that Moody simply needs to be in there. 

Vinson was in because Self was upset with Hawkins and Robinson.  But he did show that he was able to contribute some good things.  I think his stroke is one of the better ones behind Downs.  It's a big question of whether he can do it against better teams.  But he certainly didn't hurt us last night.  Coach has a lot of possibilities, especially as far as backups, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.  Vinson backing up the point?  Not likely, but it worked out okay last night.  And, I did see him pointing things out to the other players like where to be at a given time.  He understands the system as well as anyone.

How about that long three by Case at the end?  That's the stroke that I have been hearing about.  He got it off in a hurry, too.  Big Matt Kleinmann came in and did some good things again.  It's good to have a game where everybody can get a couple of minutes.  They work hard in practice, and it's nice they get a chance to play - especially in front of the home crowd.

I thought Coach Self did a good job.  He gave his youngsters some valuable minutes.  He called a couple of good timeouts to settle them down and probably reminded them of what they were supposed to be doing.  (I wasn't in the huddle.)  Like Chris Piper said, when all the freshmen are playing along with Giles or whomever, there isn't anybody out there who has enough experience to remind guys where to go, what to do, and get in their faces when necessary.  That, too, will come.

We have to continue to look at the big picture.  This game certainly doesn't mean we will go undefeated the rest of the way.  It was a stepping-stone, a much needed one.  We needed to pick ourselves back up and have a positive performance with the end result being a win.  I'm encouraged.  I know there will be more bumps along the way.  But sit back and enjoy watching the guys grow together as a team.  The abilities are definitely there.

It a good day to be a Jayhawk !


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