Tennessee Win Important For Young Jayhawks

Bill Self's teething Jayhawk squad grew up a Little with their win over Tennessee in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, led by Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. The story from Phog.net's Eric Bossi, inside...

It wasn’t until the final minute of the Kansas Jayhawks 92-85 win over 14th ranked Tennessee was winding down that Sherron Collins finally let loose. Like a gladiator looking to the crowd for approval after a big kill, the junior point guard summoned the Allen Fieldhouse crowd to their feet and 16,300 strong rose to join Collins and the rest of the Jayhawks as they celebrated their hard fought victory over a ranked opponent.

The synergy with the crowd was something that Collins enjoyed and he felt it important to point out how much of a difference a wild home crowd can make.

”I think the crowd was excellent,” said Collins. “That helped us out a whole lot. They were into the game the whole time. This was a big game that we needed and the crowd played a huge part in this win.”

Despite holding a double digit lead for much of the game, Collins and his team knew that the Volunteers wouldn’t give up easy. It was a message that Bill Self drove home during practice and one that he and the Jayhawks took to heart.

”Coach had stressed how hard Tennessee plays,” said Collins after his game high 26 point and nine assist performance. “He said that it’s a man’s game and that if you’re not a man you shouldn’t be out there and he’s not going to put you out there.

“We took it upon ourselves, getting together and talking about it and I think we wanted it more. I think our intensity was great on both ends of the court.”

While Collins penetration and ability to beat the first wave of Tennessee’s press wreaked havoc on the perimeter, sophomore center Cole Aldrich dominated on the interior. Slowed briefly by an awkward 3-2 matchup zone that befuddled he and the rest of the Jayhawks during the first half, the Minnesota native played like a man in the lane en route to 22 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

After some up and down performances, Aldrich pointed out how important it was for a young Kansas team to fight off such a physical and athletic foe.

“They showed heart throughout the whole game, they didn’t give up,” said Aldrich of the Volunteers. “I think it was a really good win for us. It puts us back on our feet and it keeps us building momentum for this real big stretch that we’ve got coming up here.”

With dangerous Siena coming into Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday and a big game at Michigan State looming next Saturday, the Jayhawks are just two games away from the start of Big 12 play meaning that there’s not much room left for learning.

Justifiably pleased with the monstrous play of his two stars, Bill Self also pointed out how important it was to get big efforts out of the Jayhawks supporting cast. Whether it was junior Mario Little stealing some possessions during his first game of the season, sophomore guard Brady Morningstar’s underrated 13 point, six assist, four rebound performance or some big shots in the second half from Tyrel Reed, Self was glad to see some guys not named Collins or Aldrich step up.

“When we play high-caliber competition, I know its pressure on them to perform,” said Self of his stars players. “But, our complimentary players played pretty well too.  Tennessee is really athletic. We played so well early and took it at them so well, I felt like the only thing that kept us from not really extending the lead in the first half was makeshift lineups.  

“We put Mario (Little) in a spot we have never practiced him in the two days he has practiced. We had makeshift lineups out there, just trying to make it to halftime. They cut it to seven, and we made free-throws late.  They shot it about as well behind the arc the last five minutes as they possibly could, and we were still able to win by seven.”

For a team loaded with youth that had previously struggled during close games, Self said the win was important for many reasons. Chief among them being that the game is a signature win in building towards a run at defending their 2008 national championship in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Collins, the Jayhawks undisputed leader, agreed that the game was an important one for confidence as much as anything else. While he’s not sure that Kansas has completely turned the corner, he knows they took a big step on Saturday and it’s one that bodes well for the future.

“I don’t know if we’ve turned the corner yet,” finished Collins. “But, I know that we took a big step towards turning the corner today.”

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