KU likes to run, and the Jayhawks certainly know that Roy Williams’ Tar Heels love to push the ball at every opportunity.
“We know what ‘Carolina wants to do, and
that’s how we play our best,” said KU coach Bill Self. “I may be wrong, but it will probably be a game with a
lot of possessions. They do play faster than Texas. We got to play a
lot better than we did (against Davidson in the Elite Eight) in order
to have a chance to have some success.”
While Williams’ teams at Kansas ran with Kevin Pritchard and
Adonis Jordan at point guard, the Jayhawks didn’t kick the
fast break into high gear until the Jacque Vaughn years (1993-97).
Vaughn brought a new dimension to the KU attack, which became even more
explosive during the latter part of Williams’ tenure at
Using a three-guard lineup in 2002 (Final Four team) with Jeff Boschee,
Kirk Hinrich, and Aaron Miles, the Jayhawks averaged 90.9 points per
game, the highest point total since the 1989-90 team racked up 92.1
points a game.
Williams has continued his high-octane offense at ‘Carolina.
First, he had speedy Raymond Felton to lead the break. Now, Williams
has sophomore point guard Ty Lawson running the show. The Tar Heels
have run over opponents this season, averaging 89.2 points per game
(No. 2 in nation). UNC has scored at least 100 points eight times this
season, including twice in the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks aren’t far behind at 80.6 points per game (No.
12 in nation). This is Self’s first team at Kansas to average
at least 80 points. KU has scored at least 100 points three times this
season — against Louisiana-Monroe in the season opener on
Nov. 9, versus Baylor on Feb. 9, and against Texas Tech on Senior Night
on March 3.
While Self’s Jayhawks don’t run as much as
‘Carolina, the ‘Hawks love to push the ball in
transition and create opportunities off their defense.
"I think we have to be who we are,” Self said. “If
you look at the times that we've struggled this year, it's been times
when it's basically been a low possession game or we couldn't generate
points off a defense or in transition and I think that's what
‘Carolina does better than anybody, is generate points before
the defense is set.
“Of course we don't want the score to be 110-108, unless we
have 110, but we do want possessions and we want to play fast because
that's who we are. We aren't going to change who we are after 38 games,
but we can play smart and we can certainly pick our spots."
Self’s players welcome an up-tempo game. KU has guards in
Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush who
can run all day.
"We play fast so we are going to still play how we play and are not
going to do anything different,” Collins said.
“They play fast and are going to try to push the ball and we
are going to have to be ready for it.
"We need to do what we've been doing all year and that is getting up
and down the floor. When we are playing good offense that means we are
playing good defense, so the main thing is to play our game.”
The ‘Hawks will have to play great defense to beat UNC. One
of the big keys is if KU can force North Carolina into turnovers and
make the Tar Heels miss shots. If that happens, KU will be able to run
and get easy baskets. On the flip side, the Jayhawks’ guards
must take care of the ball and KU must make at least 50 percent of its
shots to keep the Tar Heels from getting their running game unleashed.
Offensively, at least on paper, this is quite an evenly matched game.
KU shoots 50.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three-point
range, while ‘Carolina makes 49.1 percent of its shots and
37.9 percent from beyond the arc.
However, look at the defensive numbers. The Jayhawks are No. 3 in the
nation in field goal percentage defense (.379), while North Carolina
ranks 102nd (.423). KU has even taken its ‘D’ up a
notch in the tournament, allowing just 57.8 points per game. For the
season, KU’s opponents average 61.2 points a game, compared
to 72.2 points for UNC’s foes. (North Carolina’s
89.2 points per game still give the Tar Heels the third best scoring
margin in the country at 17.0, while KU ranks No. 1 in scoring margin
Edge to Kansas on defense, though this will be the biggest defensive
challenge of the year for the Jayhawks.
In a game where both teams love to run, the team which can make the
defensive stops down the stretch will win this game.
While KU won’t stop North Carolina’s running game,
the Jayhawks can slow it down. And if that happens, the Jayhawks will
be flying first to the finish line.
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