Head coach Bill Self knew he’d have a young team this season but to the 6th year KU coach’s credit, he did not back down from the competition when compiling the 2008-2009 schedule. His young Jayhawks tackled a tough non-conference tilt, but until this point had not capitalized on opportunities to notch wins against Syracuse, or Arizona.
Narrow losses to UMass and Syracuse don’t get you far when
pedigrees are being examined late in the season, and no one will
remember that KU was leading in Tuscon before being inexplicably
blitzed down the stretch.
Facts are facts and the KU resume to this point lacked a quality win
against a non-conference opponent and included an unexpected slip up in
its home-away-from-home in Kansas City vs. the Minutmen.
So Saturday Bruce Pearl’s ranked Tennessee Volunteers visited
Lawrence and provided yet another litmus test for this developing
Matching the intensity and aggressiveness of Pearl’s
Tennessee Volunteers is no easy task for any team yet one as young as
KU. The Vols are aggressive, long, athletic, and perhaps the hardest
team to inbound against in the country. But all parties came ready for
Kansas had a raucous fieldhouse crowd, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich
led by example, and Self even showed his fire during a first half that
saw KU jump out to a sizeable lead.
The Jayhawks were ready from the opening tip and behind Collins
career-high 26 points and nine assists answered every challenge the
Vols threw at them. Collins took good shots, did not force the issue,
got his teammates involved and set the tone early, taking on four
Tennessee defenders and scoring a layup on a pretty spin move.
“I think Sherron was great today. He played his
butt off. He was great,” said Aldrich.
“I think it was because I was able to control the game and
get my teammates shots,” said Collins when asked if it was
his best game in a KU uniform. “I didn’t try to go
one-on-one, I just let the game come to me.”
On the interior it was all Aldrich all the time and Tennessee got a
large dose of KU’s 6-11 sophomore. Aldrich played 37
meaningful for minutes for Self and notched 22 points, posted six
blocks, and ten rebounds. Aldrich helped the Hawks answer the call on
the boards, which was likely a concern coming in. Kansas ended up
outrebounding Tennessee 44-38 and never let the Vols get momentum by
putting away missed shots.
“We had good games by our 20-year old Sherron Collins and our
19-year old Cole Aldrich. The both played great,” Self said.
“When we play high-caliber competition, I know its pressure
on them to perform. But our complimentary players played pretty well
“Today was what we needed to do. Cole did a good job of
staying out of foul trouble early and so did I. I thought I
just tried to let the game come to me. It shows that when Cole and I
are on the court at the same time that we can produce,”
according to Collins.
“Their two best players had terrific games,” said
Pearl who was clearly not happy with the play of his team.
“We really didn’t have an answer for (Sherron)
Collins. Collins did whatever he wanted out there. Defensively it
didn’t matter what we did, whether it was pressure, zone or
The team got a lift from Mario Little’s return to the lineup.
Little, wearing a protective glove on his hand with the no fingers,
also had his stress fractured leg taped up. Little looked rusty but
showed enough to make fans believe he could be a help in the coming
weeks if he can stay healthy.
“He will help a lot,” Collins said when asked if
Little’s return would help. “His scoring, his sense
of toughness and his rebounding. When he gets back to 100% his
rebounding will increase and he will also score a lot for us. He will
bring a sense of urgency and toughness to our team and another
perimeter player that we need.”
Brady Morningstar continues to surprise against more athletic
opposition on the defensive end and he and Tyrel Reed continue to shoot
it well from long range (5-10 three-point FG Saturday). With the game
tightening up towards the end freshman Tyshawn Taylor made some key
plays (12 points). Travis Releford hasn’t played as often as
he’d like this year but he took a step towards giving Self
the type of effort on the defensive end and on the glass the coach has
asked for. The Morris twins both fouled out of this one but matched the
toughness of Tennessee and Marcus gave the Hawks seven points and six
rebounds before his departure.
Defensively though they gave up 85 points, Kansas again held its
opponent under 40 percent shooting (39.4) for the eighth time this
year. But the most impressive team stat might be the 25 assists on 34
field goals. That means the Jayhawks played Bill Self’s style
of basketball on both ends of the court.
There will be more tests in the coming week with a game against Siena
on the horizon and the sternest test of them all – a trip to
East Lansing to take on a hot Michigan State team. Then Big 12
conference play will begin.
But for today Kansas outhustled and outworked one of the toughest teams
in the country largely because Collins and Aldrich led and even more
importantly, their teammates followed.
KU Gets One
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