Kaun Knows It's Time to Get Busy

He has not been forgotten, but Sasha Kaun has been out of the media limelight for most of the season as he's battled inconsistency and relinquished his starting position to the much improved Darnell Jackson back in late November.

But its February now, the Big 12 conference race is heating up, and Sasha Kaun knows it's time to roll. For the 6-11 senior center, it’s now or never. This is his last season, his last hurrah.

After Kaun scored 12 points (5-8 FG), grabbed four rebounds, and blocked two shots in just 13 minutes during KU’s 90-71 victory over Missouri on Monday night, he was the center of attention in the postgame interview room. This was just the third time all season where Kaun scored in double digits in back-to-back games. (He had 12 points at Colorado last Saturday.)

A reporter bluntly asked him: “What got into you?”

Kaun laughed.

“It’s getting toward the end of the season, maybe (I’m) starting (to) wake up a little,” Kaun said. “I’m just playing hard. It’s something coach tries to emphasize, be more active. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, be a little more loose on the court.”

That certainly showed Monday night. After rebounding his own missed shot and then scoring and getting fouled on a wild hook shot with 12:04 remaining in the first half, Kaun turned around excitedly and kicked his foot in the air.

The Allen Fieldhouse crowd roared.

This was his time, his last home game versus Missouri, and Kaun was living it up. He made the free throw, which gave KU a 23-17 lead. And the Jayhawks never really looked back the rest of the way.

“It was just kind of the game moment,” Kaun said about his rare show of emotion. “Things were going good for us. It was just in the moment. I guess it’s something I have to do more, get myself going a little bit.”

Kaun filled in admirably in the first half for starter Darrell Arthur, who was forced to the bench with his second foul at the 17:27 mark. Kaun scored all nine of his first-half points in the
first 10:03 of the game. His minutes (four) were limited in the second half with foul trouble.

“The shots were falling and that definitely helps a lot,” Kaun said. “It gives you a little confidence and you start playing a little better. When one of your teammates (Arthur) goes down with foul trouble, you realize you don’t have that depth anymore. You kind of have to play a little bit better and step it up.”

KU coach Bill Self was quite pleased with Kaun’s performance.

“I thought Sasha was terrific,” Self said. “He and Cole (freshman Aldrich, who finished with six points and nine rebounds in 12 minutes) bailed us out the first half.”

While he may have lost his starting spot and been overshadowed by Jackson’s strong play this season, Kaun has silently shot a career and team-best 66.7 percent from the field, which is dramatically improved from his 53 percent marksmanship a year ago. The big man from Russia is also averaging 7.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

With the Jayhawks (22-1, 7-1) heading into the second half of Big 12 play against Baylor on Saturday, Kaun aims to continue his strong play.

He wants to be a contributing force and have a senior season to remember.

“It gives me a little confidence when you’re playing good and you’re helping the team out,” he said.

Self hopes Kaun can continue to deliver in the paint.

“I think Sasha is a really good player,” Self said. “I think sometimes he doesn’t play to his athletic ability and his size. He’s getting more consistent in doing that. He played pretty good in Boulder as well. We’re not going to win big unless we have our full complement, especially that core seven, all play at the level they’re capable of playing at. As far as I’m concerned, we got seven starters, and he’s playing like a starter now even though he’s coming off the bench.” 

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