'Hawks Must Keep Rolling

Kansas is on a little roll, and it doesn't want to stop. Not after rallying after the bitter loss to Texas A&M (69-66) on Feb. 3 in Allen Fieldhouse and then whipping rivals K-State (97-70) and Missouri (92-74). And the 'Hawks certainly don't want to stop now, not after some skeptics may have considered them too inconsistent to make a deep run in March.

The Jayhawks (21-4, 8-2) have some momentum heading into their battle at Colorado on Wednesday night. KU played two of its best games of the season at home vs. K-State on Feb. 7 and at Missouri on Saturday, where the ‘Hawks showed just how explosive they can be. There was forward Julian Wright scoring a career-high 33 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, guard Brandon Rush contributing 21 points (eight-of-10 field goals) and seven boards, and 5-11 dynamo Sherron Collins (14 points, seven assists) breaking the Tigers’ press with aplomb and penetrating the lane for creative assists and scores. Let’s not forget unsung hero Darnell Jackson chipping in 10 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes, and giving KU that much needed enforcer and physical presence inside.

Kansas hopes to come up big again vs. CU in the 8 p.m. tipoff at the Coors Conference Center. The ‘Hawks destroyed Colorado 97-74 in Lawrence on Jan. 27, and are hoping to sweep the league series with Colorado for the fourth straight season and 15th time in the last 16 years. Kansas has also won 35 of the last 36 games vs. CU since 1991.

KU coach Bill Self does not expect a letdown in Boulder. He wants his team to play with passion, fire, and a huge sense of urgency.

"We put ourselves in a position,” Self said, “where if we're going to win the league, we have to take care of business every game because Texas A&M is not going to slip up much, if they even do at all. We certainly have to approach this game as if it were as big as any other game, which it is in the big picture.”

The Buffaloes (6-14, 2-8) come into the game losing four of their last five, including falling to K-State 78-59 in Manhattan on Saturday. Freshman guard Xavier Silas led the Buffs with 16 points, while senior guard Dominique Coleman chipped in 14. Junior guard Richard Roby, CU’s star who burned KU for 30 points in the last meeting, was held to just five points on one of nine shooting. Roby (fifth leading scorer in Big 12 at 17.0 ppg) came into the K-State game averaging nearly 23 points in his previous three games.

Self knows his club much do a much better job on Roby then they did in Allen Fieldhouse over two weeks ago.

"We need to get a hand in his face,” Self said. “We also need to keep him off the free-throw line (seven of 10 vs. KU) and the offensive glass. We need to do a better job when he posts up. ...He is still one of those guys who you can guard well and he'll still make hard shots. We need to make sure he doesn't get many good looks."

Self wants defense, defense, and even more defense. He hasn’t been that pleased with KU’s inability to stop teams lately from penetrating the lane when they spread their offense. K-State guard Jermaine Maybank, who was averaging just 2.6 points before the KU game, burned the ‘Hawks with 25 points and was 12 of 15 from the free-throw line.

“If you look at our biggest problem on defense over the past few weeks, it has been that we haven't guarded the ball very well and they (CU) spread out on offense and drive it as well as any team in the league,” Self said. “Missouri was great at that as well and against Kansas State, Jermaine Maybank did a great job of that also. We've got to do a better job guarding and rebounding the ball. Those are two areas we were pretty poor in the last time we played Colorado."

The KU coach believes his team will to rise to the challenge. After all, except for the loss at Texas Tech on Jan. 20, KU has been winning on the road in the Big 12. The ‘Hawks played great their last three road games vs. Baylor, Nebraska and Missouri.

“We've played pretty well away from home, which has become a trademark of this team in conference play,” Self said. “I think we're 10-3 away from home the last two years.”

As KU gears up for Colorado and then the final five games in conference play, Self is limiting practice time. He wants his team to be fresh for the stretch run heading into March.

"This time of year, as much as we might want to practice, having rested bodies is as important as anything,” Self said. “We also have some guys banged up, so we definitely need to cut back in some areas. We won't really change much of what we've been doing. There are certainly some things we could get better on, but the biggest thing is to cut down the reps."

While KU currently sits in second place behind Big 12 leader Texas A&M, the Jayhawks are No. 1 in field goal percentage and rebounding in the conference. Kansas is taking less three-pointers in conference play and getting better shots by being “more aggressive, getting the ball into the paint more and shooting tight, close-in shots, which usually results in a high percentage.”

KU has improved its rebounding since the CU game in Allen Fieldhouse (Colorado had 36 boards to KU’s 30), but Self wants more guys attacking the glass than just Wright, Jackson, and Rush.

“We could become a very good rebounding team and right now I'd say we're above average,” Self said. “In the game against Missouri, we had 13 offensive rebounds and two guys (Wright and Jackson) had them all. There are still some guys who are not rebounding the ball like they are capable of doing.”

Yes, freshman forward Darrell Arthur and junior center Sasha Kaun need to get more boards and help solidify what is looking like a potential Final Four team. And with Rush, Wright, Collins, and Jackson playing their best ball of the year, well, KU could be an awfully tough team to be the rest of the way.

But first, it’s off to the Coors Conference Center on Wednesday night for a showdown with the Buffaloes. Self knows it won’t be easy with the Buffs giving their best shot and adapting their game plan after losing to Kansas in January.

“We'll see a totally different Colorado team playing at home,” Self said.

And Kansas should be ready as the team is gaining more confidence with their impressive play on the road these last two weeks. KU will also be bolstered by an always strong Jayhawk contingent in Boulder.

“To play well away from home, although we're young, it may be a sign of maturity and toughness,” Self said. “I don't want to picture that we're great on the road. We have played well on the road for the most part. It’s a pretty gratifying locker room to win on the road.”

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