Payback Win Should Be Turning Point

Just when I was starting to feel suckered in,... An 88-74 Kansas win over Kansas State's Michael Beasley and a bunch of other guys Saturday night in front of a tremendous Allen Field House crowd nearly restored my faith in this team.

KU's loss in Bramlage Mausoleum back on January 30th caused a lot of people to question this team. One has to wonder if the players themselves might have been among them.

Sure, there came the requisite February wins over mutts like Colorado and Iowa State, but subsequent losses to Texas and Oklahoma State didn't steel anyone's resolve that this might be a final four team.

This nationally-televised win, however, should show everyone (including the team) how well this group can play, even when they aren't playing particularly well.

It certainly wasn't shooting that got it done for KU. Granted, Kansas shot a respectable 47.8 percent from behind the arc, but for the night, they shot a not-so-stellar 46.5 percent overall.

The difference this night was in what Bill Self would call “hustle plays”: rebounding, steals, grabbing loose balls.

“We did a good job of being aggressive and not backing down, just hitting them and going to get rebounds,” Sherron Collins said.

Saturday night's stat sheet seems to bear that out: KU outrebounded the bubble-riding Wildcats, 41-34, including a decisive 23-16 edge on the offensive boards.

Kansas maintained that aggressive mindset most of the night. They also stole the ball from KSU 15 times. KSU returned the favor just eight times. Kansas turned the ball over 14 times, compared to KSU's 20 times.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin said that his team didn't understand the level at which this game was going to be played, and that contributed to the lopsided rebounding and turnover numbers, especially in the first half.

“Two key stats when you play Kansas, especially in this building, is that you can't turn the ball over because it allows them to get out and run. Number two, you have to rebound the ball on the defensive side. At halftime, we had 14 turnovers and I believe they had 15 offensive rebounds and I think that was the difference in the game."

Kansas also showed more energy Saturday than they had in the past three or four games combined. The difference was evident to both teams.

"I think we came out with a lot of energy tonight,” Brandon Rush said. “In the first five minutes of the game we were the aggressors. That was our game plan. We came out and executed our offense and got the crowd behind us.”

Kansas State's Clent Stewart saw it, too.

"They played with a lot of energy, especially at the beginning. They came out and jumped on us early and that was hard to overcome. It's hard enough to win on the road as it is and anytime you get down and dig yourself a hole it going to be really hard."

The late Al McGuire used to say that the most crucial times in any game are the first four minutes of each half. Four minutes into the first half, Kansas was ahead, 15-6, en route to a 41-29 halftime lead. In the first four minutes of the second half, the Jayhawks outscored the Fighting Beasleys, 11-0, to grab a 52-29 lead. KSU wouldn't get closer than 13 the rest of the way.

KSU's Michael Beasley – who dropped 39 points and grabbed 11 boards for his 847th double-double of the year – noted more than just KU's energy. He saw something that KU has lacked at times this year.

"(Kansas) came out and played with a purpose. They had more will than we had. We had no will to win."

Maybe that's the most important thing KU fans and – if necessary – KU players should take away from this game.

KU has played well several times this season, but everyone but the most ardent Jayhawk fan has wondered at times whether or not this team had either toughness or a killer instinct or both.

What is a sense of purpose other than toughness and a will to knock an opponent down and keep a foot on their throat until the final horn?

It was especially heartening to see it happen with postseason play just around the corner.

Kansas made the blue-collar plays Saturday night, and those plays are simply a product of effort. In those tough, grind-it-out games when shots aren't falling – see UCLA last March – those are the plays a team has to make to have a chance.

This win was all about focus, energy and effort. If this team is going to play another 11 games and end the season where everyone thought they would before the year started, they're going to have to bring all three at the same sky-high level we saw Saturday night.

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