Guard Mario Chalmers turned in an all-world performance to lead the Jayhawks. He didn’t get a quadruple double, but he didn’t miss by much: 12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists (against just two turnovers) and seven steals.
Meanwhile, in the paint, Sasha Kaun came off the bench for the second straight game and overcame a terrible start to lead Kansas in scoring with 15 points. He also added five rebounds in just 15 minutes of work.
Kansas’ big men got off to a quick offensive start with Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur and Cole Aldrich scoring 10 of KU’s first 12. KU’s offense sputtered momentarily, and DePaul assumed a 13-12 lead on Karron Clarke’s free throws with 10:38 to go in the first half.
KU’s defense took advantage of DePaul turnovers and abysmal shooting to go on a 24-1 run to make the score 36-14, Jayhawks.
“I thought, defensively, we were pretty good in the first half, especially the last 10 minutes,” KU head coach Bill Self said, staking a late claim to the 2007 Home Depot Understatement of the Year Award. During the run, KU forced seven Blue Demon turnovers and pressured the visitors into going nine-and-a-half minutes between field goals. DePaul had five possessions in that span where they didn’t even get off a shot.
Despite giving up some easy baskets late in the first half, the Jayhawks took a 39-22 lead into the intermission and never looked back.
Chalmers received high praise and plenty of it from Self, who said that although he’s had higher scoring games this season, this was the best game he’s played.
Self said, “Today was the best game he’s played all year, by far. We equate playing well with making shots. He impacted the game today by doing a little bit of everything.”
Self called Chalmers “the best defensive anticipator I’ve ever coached,” and continued, “He’s got good vision in transition, and today, he put himself in a position to rebound the ball very well.”
Self also praised his bookend backcourt of Chalmers and Robinson for complementing each other so well Saturday.
“[Chalmers] and Russell were complete guards today. This is the best they’ve played together in quite awhile. Not that they’d played poorly, but they played to their strengths today and they got everyone involved and the game just became easier for everyone.”
Also noteworthy Saturday was the early return of Sherron Collins. Self said the sophomore guard out of Chicago had the DePaul game circled on his calendar since his ankle surgery a month ago.
“We thought that this past Monday, he’d be practicing full speed, and he just hasn’t been able to do that. I told him to go out there and play safe, and that’s not really his game , but don’t try to do anything too…and initially, I’m going to play you maybe two, three minutes at a time and we’ll kind of see where it goes.”
Collins struggled to find a rhythm, thanks to a month of inaction, but he showed flashes of his old self – particularly with a couple of slashing drives into the lane and by draining two three-pointers that accounted for his six points.
In a variation on a theme, Self said he felt better about rebounding, an area that had drawn a great deal of negative attention from the coaching staff.
“We controlled the glass, although the stats don’t say that. We were up eight on the glass with 10 minutes left and they out-rebounded us like 13 the last 10 minutes. We didn’t finish the game very well.
“I thought all our big guys played well today.”
DePaul was paced by Dar Tucker who turned in an impressive double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Mac Koshwal had nine points and 10 boards. High-scoring Draelon Burns scored 10 points on 3-11 shooting.
The Jayhawks now face finals and will resume hardwood action next Saturday when they make their Sprint Center debut against the Ohio University Bobcats (5-2). Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. tip-off, and the game can be seen on ESPN2.