It Was Christmas For Morningstar

Brady Morningstar arrived at Kansas in 2006 with the reputation as a sweet shooter and "glue guy" who makes his teammates better. But after his stellar job guarding Temple star guard Dionte Christmas on Saturday, Morningstar's defense might become his new calling card.

Brady Morningstar shadowed Christmas for 13 minutes the first half, helping hold him to just three points on 1 of 4 shooting in KU’s 71-59 victory. Christmas didn’t score his first points until a three-pointer with 1:48 remaining before halftime.

Christmas eventually heated up in the second half, scoring 18 of his game-high  21 points. He hit some tough, deep shots with Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, and Travis Releford each guarding him.

Morningstar’s defense drew rave reviews as the Lawrence native and former Free State High star was the center of attention in the postgame press conference. After about 10 minutes of interviews and with KU coach Bill Self sitting at the front table waiting to address the media, Morningstar still sat by the wall answering questions from reporters.

“The guy makes three shots (four) and he’s the highlight of the press conference. Good gosh. Comb your hair,” Self joked as Morningstar finally walked out the interview room.

Self will surely excuse Morningstar for having his hair a bit out of place after his workmanlike and tireless effort. Giving up two inches to the 6-5 Christmas, Morningstar certainly earned his 27 minutes chasing the  senior on the perimeter for the majority of time.

The sophomore guard shined as well on offense, scoring 11 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three-point range.

“You have to be there on the catch and even if you are, he’s shown he can shoot,” Morningstar said about Christmas. “You just have to keep a hand up and try not to get too much separation. That’s about all you can do.”
It was a defensive performance well done.

“I think Brady did a great job,” said junior guard Sherron Collins. “Dionte Christmas is really good. He’s tall and can see over most defenders. He made Christmas work for every basket and contested every shot. On some of the shots I didn’t think there was a chance, and he still made them.”

Christmas, who matched his average of 21 points, was coming off a 35-point game against Tennessee last Saturday, where he scored 30 points the second half. He shot 6 of 14 from the field versus KU, including 6 of 12 from beyond the arc.

Just like the Tennessee game, Christmas got off to a slow start against Kansas.

“I think a lot of it maybe he wasn’t quite as aggressive looking to score,” Self said. “The other thing, Brady’s got happy feet. He can slide. He’s pretty active. He needs to be that for us. He did a good job guarding him. He really did.”

It seems Morningstar did some extra preparation heading into Saturday’s matchup with Christmas.

“I talked to Jeremy (Case, graduate student manager),” Morningstar said. “I asked if I could get some clips of (Christmas) on what he does on the offensive end and how he likes to play. I just took that and watched it a couple of times. Just kind of see his style of play. Obviously, he can shoot the ball. I just tried the best I could. They run him off a lot of screens. He creates some separation ... so you just got to stay on his hip. That’s the main thing.”

Christmas praised Morningstar and the Jayhawks for their solid defense.

“I thought Morningstar and the rest of the team did a good job keying on me,” Christmas said. “I was just trying to let the game come to me. I wasn’t trying to take too many bad shots, but I thought those guys did a great job defending me in the first half. And the second half as well.”

Christmas made three straight three-pointers to open the second half and four of his first five treys. However, he then missed three straight three-pointers. As a team, Temple struggled with its shooting after halftime, shooting just 36.4 percent in the second half after hitting 44 percent in the first half.

“I thought Kansas did a great job on having tremendous ball pressure,” Christmas said. “They were just more focused than us on the defensive end. It’s a great program—defending world champs—and we knew coming in that it wasn’t going to be easy.

“They’ve got tough basketball players, a tough program, and they just made it tough for us the whole way.”

Especially Morningstar. His active defense on Christmas helped key KU early in the game as the Jayhawks raced to a 13-2 start. The rising defensive sparkplug knows Kansas must always come ready from the opening tip.

“From the get-go, we have got to play defense and score on offense and not have any turnovers,” Morningstar said. “I don’t think we are talented enough in late game situations as we were a year ago to come back from 10 down or five down with two minutes left. I think we’re talented, but I don’t think we’re near as talented as last year.”

KU may not be as talented, but the Jayhawks have gritty role players like Morningstar helping win games. Led by Morningstar, Collins (19 points and six assists) and sophomore center Cole Aldrich (13 points and 11 boards), Kansas bounced back from its loss to Massachusetts last Saturday and notched its eighth victory of the season against Temple.

The Jayhawks (8-2) now go for No. 9 Tuesday at Arizona (9:30 p.m. CST). So is Kansas back on track heading into its showdown with the Wildcats?

“You can say that,” Morningstar replied. “One game isn’t going to change a whole lot, but I think we took a step in the right direction.” Top Stories