It was the first time this season I felt like KU REALLY missed sophomore Sherron Collins. Shots weren’t falling, the ball handling was suspect, and KU’s more experienced guards were struggling to get by the seemingly quicker USC guards. Kansas failed to get anything going on offense no matter what combination head coach Bill Self put on the floor.
Tim Floyd’s USC team was able to keep a lid on the Jayhawks vaunted transition game and in the half court, Kansas shot an uncharacteristic 34 percent from the floor. The Trojans led by as many as ten early on. The Jayhawks didn’t have much luck from behind the three point line either misfiring on six of the eight threes they attempted in the first 20 minutes.
“Oh, we were horrible. We were horrible, we missed layups, we turned it over, missed free throws. We were brutal,” Self told reporters after the game.
“The first half was terrible. I think we were just too anxious. We were too hyped up for the game. We knew it was a big game,” junior guard Mario Chalmers added. “They had us playing their game in the first half.
But by the latter stages of the first half, Bill Self’s squad finally started to click on the offensive end of the floor. In a tightly contested first half it took a last second two by freshman Davon Jefferson to give USC a two-point lead at the half, 27-25.
KU felt fortunate to be down only two at the half after its poor shooting and really survived on stout defense and by out-rebounding the smaller Trojans, 22-17. Freshman standout O.J. Mayo led the way for the Trojans in the first half with 12 points on 3-10 shooting.
The Kansas offense looked rejuvenated in the second half but the Jayhawks could never really pull away thanks to a plethora of turnovers (13 in the half, 22 for the game). But KU forced some turnovers of its own and was able to get some points in transition easing the burden in the half court.
“We didn’t have a lot of good shots in the first half. I think we were rushing everything we did (have),” according to Mario Chalmers. “We came out the second half and we were composed. We came out and played our game.”
Kansas was also able to survive an off day from All-American candidate Brandon Rush who finished with just six points. Rush never quite found his rhythm on offense and finished 2-11 from the field and was blanked from the three-point line (0-5). In fact, in the second half when Rush finally hit a 15 foot jumper off a lose ball you could see him say, “It’s about time.”
That left Chalmers to take over the reigns on offense.
Chalmers scored 17 of his 20 points in the second 20 minutes and hit the biggest shot of the game down the stretch. With USC within two points, 20 seconds left, and the shot clock winding down, Super Mario came through again nailing a deep three to put Kansas up 5 (58-53).
“I saw there was only 5 seconds left (on the shot clock). The person that was guarding me kind of sagged back so I got the ball back from Rod (Stewart) and just shot it and I was fortunate for it to go in,” said Chalmers who also confessed the original play was to get the ball in the post to Darnell Jackson.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I wasn’t pleased with his play from a mental standpoint at all. But good gosh he competed hard and he showed some poise and made some big plays down the stretch, and of course the shot was the biggest shot of the game,” said Self.
Mario will garner the credit and the headlines, and deservedly so, but the Kansas defense was the difference in this one. This was more like the defense Self-coached teams pride themselves on. USC shot just 38 percent for the game and the Jayhawks, especially Russell Robinson, shut down Mayo in the second half.
“We didn’t do anything special. All we did was just try to guard him,” Self said referring to the game plan for Mayo. “I think O.J.’s as talented as any kid I’ve coached against. Maybe the most talented kid I’ve coached against. The whole deal was make him earn everything, try to keep him off the free throw line which we did a bad of the first half, and hope he shoots a bad percentage and gets tired. I think that’s what happened.”
Tim Floyd’s super frosh went 3-11 from the floor in half number two and could only muster seven points. Mayo finished with 19 points but also turned it over five times and never got hot. He may be one of the nation’s finest freshmen but he met up with one of the country’s top defenders in Robinson.
“He can get his shot whenever but I think the main thing today was that he played 40 minutes and he was a little tired so he settled for a lot of shots and kind of made my job easier,” said Robinson referring to Mayo’s 6-21 performance from the floor. “He didn’t have his best day but he still got 19 so he’s a pretty good player.”
“He missed some shots maybe because his legs weren’t under him. Give Russell credit on that. I thought Russell defended him very, very well,” said Self while praising one of his best perimeter defenders.
Self, who has been upset with the rebounding, had to be pleased after his team outrebounded the Trojans by 12 (42-30), including 14 offensive rebounds. Darnell Jackson led the way with a career-high 13 rebounds for KU.
“That was a whole mindset for everybody, even the guards. Just crash the glass even on the offensive end. Just keep going until somebody gets the loose ball,” added Jackson. “We came out pretty successful on the glass.
“That was the difference in the game. They missed 32 shots and got six back, and we missed 36 shots and got 14 back, so there’s eight extra possessions so there’s the difference,” concluded Self.
The more experienced team won in this one and Kansas has proven once again that if you play solid defense, good things will happen even on an off shooting night. Despite a lack of execution, KU simply refused to lose this one.
“You gotta win games when you don’t play great especially on the road and that was one of those grind it out games in which our guys competed hard. We didn’t execute worth a flip but we certainly competed hard. Now we know we can win when we don’t play well.”
- Collins will have an xray tomorrow on the foot and Self said he hopes he’s days away from practicing and not weeks.
- Tyrel Reed could’ve played Sunday. It was a coach’s decision not to play him.