Kansas Drops Portland State in NCAA Opener

OMAHA, NEB. — Kansas coach Bill Self gives his team a motivational quote before each game. On Thursday morning before KU's 11:25 a.m. tipoff with Portland State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, each player read a quote from Mark Twain:

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”

The No. 1 seed Jayhawks certainly didn’t want to be the first team in history to lose to a No. 16 seed. Despite an early 7:15 a.m. wake-up call and playing in a cold Qwest Center Omaha arena, Kansas seized its opportunity and cruised to an 85-61 victory over the Vikings.

Kansas will next face UNLV at approximately 5:50 p.m. on Saturday. Vegas beat Kent State, 71-58, in its first-round matchup.

The Jayhawks came out of the gates running, dunking, and swishing three-pointers against Portland State. Kansas, which built a 14-3 lead with 14:30 remaining in the first half, just had too much firepower and too much talent for the undermanned Vikings.

While Kansas certainly didn’t bring it’s ‘A’ game the second half (KU outscored Portland State by just one after leading by 23 at halftime), the Jayhawks survived and advanced.

“It was great to get this first one off our belt,” said senior guard Russell Robinson, who helped contain star guard Jeremiah Dominguez (13 points). “Now we got our jitters out and we’re ready to play. We shot the ball pretty well (64.3 percent in the first half, compared to just 45.5 percent after halftime). We didn’t defend particularly well, but we hit a lot of shots and were able to get a nice lead.”

KU built its 14-3 cushion behind seven points from sophomore forward Darrell Arthur. After a few defensive breakdowns by Kansas and some easy Portland State baskets and two three-pointers, the Vikings marched back to cut the lead to 24-18 with 9:17 remaining in the first half.

And then KU took complete control of the game.

Kansas burst out with a 12-0 run to lead 36-18, including seven points by Brandon Rush. The junior guard hit a floater in the lane, an offensive put-back in the paint on his own missed three-pointer, and a three-ball from the left wing. Sophomore guard Sherron Collins also hit a three ball during that run, while junior guard Mario Chalmers got a fastbreak dunk off a steal.

“The main thing is we got out and ran and just kind of set the tone of the game and got some easy shots,” Robinson said.

After Portland State responded with a 6-0 run, KU went on an 8-0 run on two three throws by senior forward Darnell Jackson and two three-pointers by Collins and Rush to lead 44-24. Collins hit another trey to put KU up 49-26 at halftime.

KU scored 17 points off 10 Portland State turnovers the first half. Rush led KU with 15 points  and finished with a game-high 18. Arthur scored 17 points, while Chalmers and senior forward Darnell Jackson added 16 and 10, respectively.

While Kansas let up the second half, Portland State got no closer than 19 points (55-36 at the 13:32 mark). The Jayhawks’ biggest lead was 29 points (73-54) with over five minutes remaining. Self began clearing the bench at that point.

“I thought we played well in the first half, and the second half, I didn’t think we played very well,” Self said. “I think the guys relaxed a little bit and we made some pretty careless turnovers. ... All in all, we played pretty well.”

“I think there’s a lot of reasons why that could occur, especially during the NCAA Tournament,” Self added about the rough second half. “We’re on a roll (heading into halftime). You sit in there for 20 minutes. Twenty minutes is a long time to sit in a locker room. That’s not an excuse, but that’s the fact. No matter how much you say, ‘Hey, the score is 0-0, let’s control the second half,’ they can look up there and see the score. ... We also played a lot of guys the second half, too, and sometimes different combinations doesn’t lend itself to looking as good as we did the first half when we only played basically seven guys.”

For Kansas, the key was jumping on the Vikings early in the game.

“I was always told when you wrestle, it’s so much easier to wrestle when you’re on top than when you’re underneath, because you use so much more energy,” Self said. “It’s the same with basketball. You burn less energy on top than you do from behind. It’s so important to get off to a good start and not let the other team think they can play with you or beat you. I’m not saying they didn’t think that, but they never challenged us, in large part, because we were up 10 to start the game.”

KU will now look to seize the opportunity on Saturday against UNLV and put two halves together. A victory over Vegas would send the Jayhawks to the Sweet 16 in Detroit.

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