Suddenly the light switch went on…Everything Bill Self has been preaching to his young team finally came to fruition in this 73-46 dismantling of Kentucky. Finally a breath of fresh air, a feel-good moment -- one the players and coaches deserve to enjoy.
While Kansas should certainly receive its share of praise for this win, Kentucky should also receive a share of the blame for the large margin of defeat. This game was about defense, energy, execution, and effort – and all those qualities were present on the Kansas side of things. Meanwhile, Kentucky fired up bad shots and frankly looked disinterested at times.
Let’s focus on the good for Kansas and it starts with Brandon Rush. Like the commercial used to say, “It’s in there,” and Self has known it from the start. What he’s gotten from Brandon since he arrived on campus was the consummate teammate – what he wants is a scorer. He got both on Saturday against Kentucky. Self has been trying to get more out of Rush. He has the ability to be a star with a little more assertiveness. At times Brandon has struggled with learning the difference between being aggressive and forcing things. Against Kentucky, he got the perfect mix. Rush was more aggressive and yet let the game come to him. He got into the lane, and scored off of catch-and-shoot opportunities. What I liked most about his 16 first-half points was that he took 12 shots. If Brandon is going to be a scorer he has to get more opportunities. Rush was a stat-sheet filler today with 24 points, two blocks, four assists and a steal. The most impressive stat for Brandon and one that Self will undoubtedly point too, was his 12 rebounds. Self wants rebounding out of the three-man and if Brandon continues to get on the glass, this team will transform into a much more effective rebounding team.
“Today he was good in all areas. He defended well, he was the best rebounder in the game, and of course he was the best offensive player – both off the catch and off the bounce. He played great,” said Self during his postgame presser.
C.J. Giles must like facing Kentucky. He had 10 points and six rebounds in last year’s win in Lexington and posted the same numbers today against the Cats. This was the most active we’ve seen the sophomore big man in almost a month. Maybe Self should print Kentucky at the top of every scouting report for Giles for the rest of the season.
Fans have been lamenting over the number of combinations Self has mixed-and-matched this season. But he may have found a gem with his latest experiment. Against Yale Self started Russell Robinson as his primary ball-handler and put freshman Mario Chalmers at the off-guard spot. It has freed up Chalmers and taken the pressure off his ball-handling, meanwhile, Robinson has effectively initiated offense and taken care of the ball and if you can go an entire game without turning the ball over against Rajon Rondo, you’re doing something right.
“Russell was good today. The other night he didn’t score and he had assists and tonight he scored a little bit (12 points) and didn’t have as many assists (1). When Rondo is guarding you and you don’t turn it over that’s pretty good. Rondo got his hands on the ball three times against Russell in the first two minutes, then after that he never got his hands on it again I don’t think,” Self said.
Robinson and Chalmers combined for just one turnover in 51 total minutes. This was a key against Kentucky who never got any easy transition points off Kansas mistakes. Instead Kentucky was forced to grind it out in the half court. Conversely, in the first half it was KU’s defense forcing the turnovers (8) and converting them to easy points (12).
“Basically we were able to eliminate our bad possessions, which if you follow us, has been one of our biggest weaknesses – wasting possessions,” Self stated.
We’ve heard Self’s comments about the energy level of his team. It wasn’t hard to get up for this one but it certainly presented evidence that bringing energy to the court on every play will bring positive results. The effort level wasn’t even close in this one and to KU’s credit, even when the margin got up to 30 points, they were still beating Kentucky to every loose ball. A fact that makes Self proud and one that probably makes Tubby Smith pretty unhappy. From an effort standpoint, KU kept the foot on the accelerator in this one and never let up.
The Wildcats went over a half without an assist and only had five for the game. Their shot selection was poor and they continued to bomb away from three to no avail. Tubby’s team finished 3-25 from three for the game and they have no business taking 25 threes. The only thing that was going to make this one closer was if Smith were allowed to recruit some shooters at the half. The Cats were also demolished on the boards 33-18.
“We were pretty good today I think but Kentucky also missed some wide open looks too, let’s not kid ourselves. We defended them well but they missed some shots,” Self continued, “and we made some shots early plus we had a great crowd behind us and of course on the road you don’t get that.”
Meanwhile, for the Jayhawks the last 70 minutes of basketball indicate this team is improving rapidly but are they where they need to be entering conference play? Wednesday Kansas will hit the road for its first true road test of the season against Colorado.
“We played well today but can we back it up with a young team and go do the same thing on the road? If we do that and have a good next week or two then I would say we’re definitely on the right track. Right now it’s too early to say we’re where we need to be because it’s just one game,” said Self.
Though the players and staff will enjoy this win at least for the duration of today, it’s time for KU to shift its focus to the second part of a three-part season -- the start of conference play and Self plans on his young team contending for another Big 12 title.
“I told our team all week long – this game’s important but it’s not as important as that Colorado game,” Self continued. “Because that’s part of something that I think the goal at Kansas should be and that’s to win a championship regardless of how young you are that’s gotta be a goal. Today’s game was an important to help us with that goal but I think the middle season for us begins Wednesday.”