Mario Definitely Super

Phog.net takes a look at Mario Chalmers outstanding performance in the Big 12 Tournament finale and how it fits in the mold of different night, different star for KU.

Kansas has no problem if a different player grabs the headlines every night.

Saturday it was Brandon Rush’s career-high 28 points that vaulted the Jayhawks over Texas A&M. Sunday it was Mario Chalmers who torched Texas from long range and netted 30 in the Big 12 Tournament Championship game.

“Yesterday Brandon stepped up big for us. Tonight everybody stepped up,” said Chalmers just minutes after winning the conference tournament. “We were talking about it yesterday, that we were going to need a big game from everybody and I think everybody continued to step up today.”

Imagine the sleep lost by opposing coaches trying to figure out how to game plan against a roster as talented as KU’s. Once again it’s been proven that Kansas does not have a go-to-guy – it has a team full of go-to guys.

“Our opponents can’t focus on one player on our team and stop him because they have to stop all five of us,” said Rush who was the MVP of the Big 12 Tournament. “We all can score, we all can take over a game whenever we want to.”  

It doesn’t seem to matter to any player, coach, or fan who that “man of the hour” happens to be.

Mario Chalmers has been that player before for this Kansas team. He’s certainly come up big in his share of big spots – the last three years in the Big 12 Tournament come to mind. But is it me or does Chalmers feels like a player who’s been somewhat overlooked over the last month or so? I guess on a team where every player is just as valuable as the next, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle – especially when things are going well. But Mario showed why you can’t forget about #15.

“The go-to person is the person that’s hot - that’s doing everything for our team – tonight it was ‘rio and I helped him out. I was the second option,” said Rush who put up 19 points in Sunday’s championship game.

Head coach Bill Self still runs plays at the end of games and in critical situations where Chalmers is one of the first options. The McDonald’s All-American has something you can’t teach – a zest for the spotlight. By spotlight we don’t mean he’s looking for headlines, or checking out which NBA scout is in the crowd – he just wants to make the big play- no matter which end of the floor it comes on - to help his team win.

Chalmers leads the team in steals and assists and believe me he’s just as happy with a critical steal in the waning minutes against Texas as he is with his point total hitting 3-0. He actually forces coaches to map out a plan to combat the havoc he also causes on the defensive end. The number of steals went down in conference play, I expect them to go back up against unfamiliar competition. It’s just not everyday teams face the length, the anticipation, or the quick hands of a player like Chalmers.

Like many of Self’s kids, Mario is all about winning. He hasn’t been talked about as much as Brandon’s knee, or Darnell’s improvement, or Darrell Arthur’s foul trouble, but he’s just proved time and time again he’s ready – especially when the lights are the brightest.

But there are bigger games to come for a team with five seniors and some underclassmen who will consider leaving early – a little sense of urgency never hurt anyone. If desire and hunger is a necessary quality to win a national championship this Jayhawk team has a heavy dose of both.

“The ultimate goal is to win a national championship and we’re still going hard after that,” said Chalmers with conviction.

A year ago I visited Lawrence and the cheer after practice as the players broke the huddle was “Big 12 Champs”. This year, despite being in the middle of a tightly contested Big 12 race, the cheer was “National Champs.” That doesn’t mean the conference title wasn’t important it’s just that after accomplishing that three years in a row (now four), Kansas has its sights set on a much bigger goal – and the first step to reaching it is beating Portland State on Thursday.

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