Despite a slow start on the offensive end, the Jayhawks defense hit its stride right away. With Kansas trapping the low post and balls screens from the opening tip, the Cyclones looked lost and KU led 25-8 at the under-eight minute media timeout. That’s a far cry from the 68-64 overtime win Kansas smuggled out of Ames the last time these two teams met.
KU coach Bill Self credited the active KU defense with disrupting the set-oriented Clones.
“They (Iowa State) run a lot of plays, and sometimes when you do those things, it takes away the plays. Rather than scout 50 plays, just try to do a couple of things where they don’t run plays or they have to deviate from that,” he said.
“At their place, we didn’t do a good job of that at all,” Self remembered. “We had two steals. I mean, jeez, coming off an Oklahoma State game where we had 17. We did a better job today.”
The offense eventually caught up with the defense, getting a bunch of easy inside baskets.
“Coach (Self) said it helps when you get easy baskets,” Wright said, “so, we were able to get lots of easy baskets starting off. We came into this game knowing that we didn’t play as well up there in Ames, so we just wanted to come out and play with a lot of intensity and we were able to get off to a good start.”
“We just went out there and attacked their two best players,” he said. “We got 24 (Taylor) in foul trouble early, so they really didn’t have a lot of offense flowing. We just attacked them inside; Sasha (Kaun) did a lot of damage down there, and Julian (Wright). Outside, they couldn’t stop our pick and roll so we just kept going to that.”
All of KU’s bigs benefited from KU’s “inside first” philosophy. Arthur continued to break through the freshman wall with a double-double on 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes. Kaun had 10 points and three boards in 16 minutes. Back-up Darnell Jackson continued to play well with 10 points and seven rebounds, and Wright added 12 and eight.
Sherron Collins had 12 points to go with six assists in his first start since early in the season. Mario Chalmers quietly continued to rebound from a midseason slump with 18 points and three assists of his own.
The Jayhawks, who were maligned by fans and the media earlier in the year for not putting lesser teams away, seem to have figured it out. They’ve won their last six games by an average of 28.8 points per game. Take out a nine-point win in Manhattan last week, and that winning margin goes up to 32.8 points per game.
Sherron Collins says the difference is simple. “Just killer instinct. That’s what coach tells us all the time, like at halftime: ‘Game ain’t over, try to come out and play the same way you did in the first half in the second half.’ Try to keep our engine level up and not play like the game’s over and take breaks. I feel we did a good job. Sometimes we got lackadaisical – you know, turnovers, lazy passes here and there. But I thought we did a good job.”
If Bill Self is worried that all these blowout wins are softening his team up prior to the tough games and close finishes the postseason is sure to bring, he’s not showing it. Sure, he said, a coach would like to have a balance of blowouts and tough games, but you can’t control that. In fact, the coach seemed almost apologetic about the improvement his team’s shown and their level of play.
“The reality of it is, we’re playing pretty well right now,” he said. “We keep playing well like this, we’ll play well down the stretch. The first 35 minutes should vary how you play, no matter what, so I think we’ve got good enough players, we can play well the last five.”