Jayhawk Defense Highlights Win Over ESU

I did a double take when I saw the first-half box score from KU's 103-58 victory over Emporia State Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse.

After all, it’s not very often that Kansas — or any team in college basketball  for that matter — shoots 80 percent from the field (24-30 FG). The Jayhawks cooled down in the second half (48.6 percent field-goal shooting), but still ended the game shooting a hot 63.1 percent.

It was indeed a very impressive offensive display by Kansas, led by Sherron Collins’ 22 points (7-9 FG) and Cole Aldrich with 17 (7-10 FG).

While KU’s offense captured the fans’ attention, what can’t be lost in Kansas' final exhibition game is the Jayhawks’ defense. Coming into the game, I was anxious to see how KU would respond after its lackluster defensive performance against Washburn last week. The Ichabods outscored Kansas, 44-41, in the second half and won the rebounding battle, 37-36.

KU coach Bill Self challenged his players to turn up the heat defensively against the Hornets.

And they responded.

The Jayhawks swarmed on the perimeter, dove on the floor, and crashed the boards. KU had 11 steals and scored 25 points off 17 turnovers, while controlling the boards, 44-23. Aldrich was a defensive presence in the middle with three blocks and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes.

Perhaps most important, KU didn’t get comfortable with a 56-30 lead at halftime. The Jayhawks continued applying defensive pressure and limited Emporia State to just 37 percent shooting in the second half, outscoring the Hornets 47-28 in the final 20 minutes. ESU shot 36.2 percent for the game.

While KU still suffered some defensive breakdowns, the ‘Hawks certainly improved their ‘D’  from the Washburn game.

“We definitely played some good defense tonight,” Aldrich said.  “We really tried to come out with a lot of energy. We kept the energy level that we had the first half. We just kept putting it to them. It’s easier to play ahead than behind.”

Self was pleased with the defensive effort, although he said his team is far from being a finished product.

“It was better,” he said. “Our young players don’t do a really good job of jumping to the ball and hugging their man when the ball’s away from them and things like that, which hopefully we can correct in time. But I thought we did some good things defensively.”

And KU “did some good things “ on the boards. Every Jayhawk recorded at least one rebound except walk-on Jordan Juenemann. However, Self said the plus-21 rebounding edge over the shorter Hornets (their tallest player was Shang Ping at 6-8) is “misleading ... because I don’t know if that’s a true indicator of where we are rebounding the ball.”

While there’s much room to grow defensively, KU took a step in the right direction against Emporia State and can build on that momentum heading into its regular-season opener versus UMKC on Sunday night back in the Phog.

Of course, Kansas can’t count on shooting 80 percent in the first half against the Kangaroos or any other team they’ll play this season. The Jayhawks must find other ways to win.

“We’re trying to find our identity,” Aldrich said. “Defense is one of the things we really want to be good at because if the other team can’t score and you score a bucket, you can win games that way. ... (Defense) was the identity of our team last year. Not many teams could score on us. If they did, we made them make shots.

“That’s (what) we really need to emphasize again this year is playing defense.”

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