You can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting someone who wants to tell you how vastly improved KU’s perimeter trio of Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush are since the Jayhawks staggered to a 3-4 start.
There’s no denying that their improvement at both ends of the floor is the biggest reason why Kansas has won seven in a row and 14 of their last 16.
However, if the Jayhawks are to go from being a really good team to being a great team, sophomore center C.J. Giles needs to step up.
The good news for Jayhawk fans is that Giles seems to be doing just that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. His numbers don’t scream at you from the box score like his backcourt counterparts. All the same, his contribution is getting noticed by the people who count most: his coaches and teammates. They say he’s been a key to the Jayhawks’ play during this streak, especially the last four games in which he’s averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 13 minutes per game.
“I just come out and play a lot more aggressive like I have the last few games,” Giles said. “If I get the minutes, the offense will come. I just go out now and focus more on defense.”
Guard Mario Chalmers said, “CJ’s really been helping us out with his length and scoring ability lately, and he’s a great shot-blocker. It helps that when someone penetrates from the other team, he’s there to block the shot.”
“CJ is doing a great job of getting in there, getting some blocks and giving us momentum that way,” Robinson said. “He’s also getting to the free throw line and making his free throws.” Giles was 7 of 10 from the charity stripe Saturday and has hit a very solid 68.8% of his free throws over the last four games. Giles is shooting just 52.4% for the season.
Robinson and Chalmers both said that there were too many expectations placed on the big men – particularly Giles – to score early in the season. But that pressure has been alleviated by the surprising offensive output from the backcourt.
“At the beginning of the season, there was a lot more pressure on CJ to score,” Chalmers explained. “Now that the guards are starting to come around (on the offensive end), we’re a lot more balanced team and CJ can play a little more relaxed.”
Robinson agreed, “Earlier in the season, he was forcing it, taking jump shots every time down. But now he’s letting the game come to him a lot more.”
A highly-touted recruit – and a KU basketball legacy – Giles was said to have been struggling with the lack of playing time and abundance of bench time. But the son of Chester Giles says that he never lost confidence in himself or his teammates. And he also knew exactly who to blame for his nominal court time.
“I knew the reason I wasn’t playing was all my fault,” Giles said, matter-of-factly. “I wasn’t playing up to the level of aggressiveness that (Coach Self) wanted. So I just kept it in the back of my mind that I just have to go out and play a lot more aggressive.”
He continued, “I practice a lot harder now. I play a lot more big man than just an outside shooter. I didn’t get down. If I did, I was down on myself for not competing like I was supposed to.”
Head coach Bill Self is very pleased with Giles’ steady emergence as a presence in the lane. But is Giles really the difference between a nice season of exceeded expectations and a strong finish that could include an NCAA tournament showing that would make the entire country sit up and take notice?
“I sure think he is!” Self said without hesitation. “He’s the X-factor. He’s our most talented big guy. If he plays to his talent level, we can very really good.”
Giles expects his game to continue to move forward. In fact, he’s pretty philosophical about it.
“Each game and each practice is just a little step for us to get up there and get ranked,” he said. “I kind of like coming in under the radar instead of how we did it last year when we were ranked number one and couldn’t go any higher. All we could do is drop. For us, we just keep playing hard and just keep getting better and better. We’re doing a lot better than we were last year.”
Other game notes:
- Four former KU basketball players were in Allen Field House to enjoy Saturdays win: Sean Pearson; Jeff Boschee; Bud Stallworth; and Dave Robisch, whose jersey hangs in Allen Field House’s south end.
- The 10th Anniversary Big 12 Team was announced at the game, and it was dominated by Jayhawks. Iowa State’s Marcus Fizer and Texas’ TJ Ford were joined by Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and Raef LaFrentz. Ironically, all three Jayhawks are Iowa natives, much to the chagrin of a vocal Iowa State contingent at the game.
- Postgame, coach Bill Self shared some very definite thoughts about the abrupt resignation of Missouri’s Quin Snyder. “I hate the way it ended at Missouri, from a professional standpoint. I don’t know what’s going on (at Missouri), I don’t know anything about it. But you hate to see people not finish, and I certainly don’t know anything about that. It’s not anyone’s call to say if they did the right thing or didn’t do they right thing, because obviously they (MU) know what’s going on. But I just hate it when guys aren’t given the opportunity or they choose not to finish, because that’s not the message we need to be sending in our profession.