Kansas head coach Bill Self knew UNLV presented his team with a unique challenge but the nation is quickly learning that it’s the Jayhawks who could be one of a kind.
The NCAA tournament is all about matchups, and a team no matter how
good, could get an unfavorable one and be sent home early. If
you’re looking for another reason to keep the Jayhawks on the
top of your list as potential national champs, realize that there might
be no such thing as a bad matchup for this team.
UNLV featured an in-your-grill pressure defense and small athletic
lineup on offense. Any coach who has a starting frontline that goes
6-9, 6-8, and brings two 6-11 players off the bench would be crazy not
to attack the Rebels on the interior. It was part of Self’s
scheme, but it wasn’t that easy. KU’s guards
struggled to get the ball inside.
“What we want to do is move the ball to get the ball inside,
but their pressure was good enough that we didn't really take advantage
of our size inside like I thought we could,” Self continued.
“In large part because we kind of played out some foul issues
and we fumbled some balls. But if you pressure hard enough, the
perimeter guys will forget about throwing inside because they're just
trying to survive. And they did a real good job with that.”
But like the Jayhawks have many times this year – they
adjusted. At the end of the day KU held a 38-10 advantage in the paint
but it was mainly because of Self’s guards and their ability
to get into the lane. Early in the game Russell Robinson drove the lane
and never looked at the rim with a “pass first”
mentality. But by the time the second half rolled around the KU
backcourt figured out that driving it was the way to beat a pesky UNLV
“It's something we did naturally,” said sophomore
Sherron Collins. “It was something (we) talked about before
the game, when we were at the hotel, Coach said we wanted to drive
their pressure, and play inside through the bigs. They pressured out so
far it just opened up lanes for us to drive. The guards had to get in a
lane and make something happen, whether it was getting a shot for
ourselves or getting our big men an easy basket.”
With the score 46-41 and just 12:20 on the clock, a vaunted Kansas run
was keyed by guard play and penetration. Self opted to go with a
four-guard lineup which provided a spark. 19 of the next 20 Kansas
points then came from the Jayhawks backcourt – eight points
from Robinson, eight from Collins, and four from Mario Chalmers.
“The one thing that I would say is a positive for me that we
haven't done much, we haven't played small much at all this
year,” said Self referring to the different styles KU has won
with this season. “We have more depth in size, so we've
always tried to play two bigs. And certainly today we did not do that
because we couldn't match up with them. And it was encouraging to me to
see us play a different way and still have success playing that
Robinson, who is without question the glue guy on this team, broke out
of what some would call a scoring slump with 13 points. Robinson went
4-5 from the line and admitted he needed a game like this for his
confidence. Early in the game Russell drove the lane but with a
“pass first” mentality – later in the
game Robinson confidently drove the lane and finished at the rim to
provide points in a critical 29-15 run to end the game for KU.
“There are a lot of games where it doesn't appear he does
much offensively because you look at points. But I think he does a lot
offensively,” said Self about the senior
Robinson. “It's just important to make
the pass to initiate the play as it is to make the pass to finish the
play. He's the best initiator we have. But he was good tonight.
Collins, who bumped his knee in practice earlier in the week, appeared
to labor early in the game but kicked into another gear.
Sherron’s ankle-breaking drive where he split two defenders
and smoothly finished the play was one of the highlights of the game
– so was the tongue he had hanging out after the play.
Collins finished with 10 points and was again ready to provide a lift
down the stretch.
Players win games and in this day and age you don’t win if
you don’t have talent. But coaches make a difference. When
you can find even the most subtle adjustment to help your team win it
could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Saturday KU head coach Bill Self pushed all the right buttons.
KU Drives to the Sweet Sixteen
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