Kansas Hops UMKC in Opener

Sunday night, the University of Kansas Jayhawks opened up the defense of their 2008 national championship in Allen Fieldhouse against UMKC.

After shrugging off a frigid 32 percent shooting performance from the field in the first half, Bill Self’s Jayhawks rolled to a 71-56 victory behind a game high 16 points from junior guard Sherron Collins, 15 rebounds from freshman forward Markieff Morris and 13 second half points from sophomore center Cole Aldrich.

With a roster featuring loads of newcomers and little in the way of experience outside of Collins and Aldrich, it wasn’t surprising to see struggles during the first game of the season. All in all, Self was happy with his team’s performance and felt like he learned a lot about his squad and the way they shook off a slow start and early foul trouble from Aldrich.

“I’m not that discouraged at all,” said Self. “I thought we played pretty good during the second half. We’re not exactly near as good a team without Cole playing at all. We had to play makeshift lineups in the first half and we didn’t make a shot and we were impatient. There were a lot of negatives but for the most part we guarded.”

“In the second half we kind of got in our way a little bit but I thought we played a lot better. I thought we did some good things in the second half. We had some rookies really step up and play well for us.”

After Collins opened the game up with a three pointer, the Jayhawks failed to convert on another three pointer for the rest of the game. Not only did their outside shooting leave them, but they struggled to score the ball in the paint after Aldrich went to the bench with a second foul just two minutes into the game.

Even though they trailed UMKC by as many as seven during that first half, a late six point run just before the end of the half allowed Kansas to get the game tied headed into intermission on a Brady Morningstar bucket just -- the Jayhawks first since the 9:11 mark -- before the half..

“Coach told us to keep playing defense,” said freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor. “We missed a lot of shots that we usually make and they made a lot of shots, so we had to keep playing and grinding it out.  I think we knew that because if we continued playing hard, kept rebounding and getting easy buckets, we were going to come out with a win eventually.”

Looking much more focused, Kansas continued their run into the second half and finally took the lead for good when sophomore guard Tyrel Reed pumped in two of his 12 points with 17:35 remaining.

According to Collins, it was the presence of Aldrich who took early control of the paint on both ends of the floor combined with a defense that held the Kangaroos to 29% shooting on the night that was the difference between the first and second half.

“I think in the first half, we played a little bit conservative,” said Collins of Aldrich’s impact on the team. “We got into foul trouble. When Cole came back out, he gave us a better inside presence. Then we got a few easy buckets and we got a little bit more confidence and a little bit more energy. The second half, we came out and pressured a little bit more and got some easy turnovers.”

One defensive play in particular really looked to have turned momentum for the Jayhawks. After converting on a tough hoop, Taylor stole the ensuing inbounds pass and scored again setting off the Allen Fieldhouse crowd.

“I was waiting for him to take it out, but he lost it,” said Taylor who finished with seven points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. “It came right to me and I just laid it up. It seemed like a change of momentum a little bit. Everybody got hyped, and we started rolling from there.”

In fact, Taylor wasn’t the only freshman who stepped up big on Sunday night. Markieff Morris was a dominant force on the glass and reserve wing Travis Releford energized the team and crowd with his slashing to the bucket and defense.

“Cole’s so tall, and I usually rely on him to get the rebounds, but today I just had to go get them myself because he was out a majority of the first half,” said Morris who also scored seven points and led the team with three assists. “ I knew I was the other big, so all the coaches told me I needed to go rebound.”

While Morris cleaned the glass, the six-foot-five inch Releford stole the Jayhawks extra possessions while playing the final 12 minutes of the game and scoring six points.

“What Travis needs to do for us is steal us extra possessions,” said Self of the Kansas City native. “He actually stole us about three extra possessions tonight which turned out to be key points.”

With UMKC out of the way, the Jayhawks hit the floor again on Tuesday night for a duel with Florida Gulf Coast. Prior to the game, the Jayhawks will unveil their 2008 championship banner and Self hopes that fans arrive early for the experience.

“At the 12 minute mark (before the game), we’re going to do the banner, we’re going to stay out there for that,” said Self. “So, if you want to see it dropped or raised or whatever you’ve got to get out there early.”

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