Ripping the Rim Down!

Cole Aldrich was shaken, humbled, and quite frustrated after playing the worst game of his career at Arizona on Dec. 23.

Cole Aldrich scored 10 points (just four shot attempts) and had only four rebounds in 23 minutes in KU’s bitter 84-67 loss. Arizona’s star center Jordan Hill whipped Aldrich in the paint with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks.
    
For Aldrich, it was an agonizing wake-up call after starting the first 10 games with a bang.

“It was a really tough game because I knew personally I didn’t play well, and that hurt the team” Aldrich said. “That didn’t put us in position to play well.
    
“From the very first possession, I let him (Hill) beat me baseline and dunk it. That kind of set the whole tone of the game from my play. The guys tried to pick me up, but it just wasn’t there for some reason.
    
After the game, Aldrich spoke to coach Bill Self.
    
“He just said, ‘Make sure that doesn’t happen again. Make sure that’s your worst game all year,’” Aldrich said. “That’s what I’m trying to do is get better every day like everybody else on the team.’”
    
Aldrich won’t use his health as an excuse, but he was likely still recovering from a stomach flu he played through against Temple three days earlier. KU’s loss was certainly hard to stomach over Christmas break, although Aldrich said it was good to get rest, see family, and “get our minds right again.”
    
Aldrich and his teammates took the Arizona loss to heart with two impressive victories over Albany on Dec. 30 and No. 14 Tennessee Saturday. The 6-11 sophomore center helped key those wins with 20 points, six boards and three blocks against the Great Danes, and then a commanding performance versus Tennessee with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-tying six blocks in 37 minutes during KU’s 92-85 victory.
    
“We just rode him and he delivered,” said Self, who was forced to play Aldrich more minutes with Markieff and Marcus Morris in foul trouble and the 6-7 Quintrell Thomas too small to effectively guard Vols’ big man Wayne Chism (17 points).

Some of the Tennessee players lauded Aldrich afterwards.

“Cole Aldrich came out and gave his all,” star forward Tyler Smith  said.

“I have to give him props, we battled the whole game,” Chism added. “He’s a good player.”

Aldrich made a statement with seven thunder dunks, many coming off alley-oop passes or free looks after penetration from guards Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor.

“Coach tells us every day to all our big guys to go up and dunk the ball because it gives us momentum, especially at home,” Aldrich said. “The crowd goes nuts and it really helps us.”

“I just try to go up and rip the rim down,” Aldrich added with a smile.

Self wants Aldrich and the other big men to keep on dunking.

“I’m a big fan of that particular shot,” Self said. “We played Albany and got zero dunks. I don’t know when the last time that happened at Kansas. We have two or three guys that can make plays rim high or higher, and certainly, he has to play to this length and he did that.

“The way he got dunks wasn’t off post moves, it was off guards forcing help or our bigs forcing help and throwing it up. That’s how we played last year. That’s how we’ve played since I’ve been here is throw it up around the rim and let guys go get it.”

The “Fly Swatter” got after a lot of balls Saturday afternoon. In addition to blocking six shots, he altered several more.

“I just try to do everything,” Aldrich said. “I try to block shots. If I can’t get it, I try to alter it because not many teams are used to having a big guy that can really block shots. I think it was really helpful for us because once in a while we get beat, and I’ll be able to  over there and block a shot.”

Aldrich is also a threat on offense. He’s averaging 14.8 points on 62.4 percent field goal shooting (No. 2 in Big 12) and 83.6 percent marksmanship (No. 4 in league) from the free-throw line. Aldrich has made a superlative 70.5 percent of his field goals (31 of 44) in the last five games. He’s also third in the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.6 rebounds per game and first in blocked shots with 2.7 per contest.

Indeed, Aldrich is a big presence in the middle.

“We have really been stressing getting the ball to Cole inside because he is our best player in the paint,” sophomore guard Tyrel Reed said. “Whenever he gets a touch good things happen. He’s either going to kick it out or make a shot and get fouled.”

Aldrich and junior guard Sherron Collins (career-high 26 points versus Vols) are the two leaders of this team, the go-to players who make  this team run, the dynamic duo who scored 21 of KU’s final 25 points against Tennessee.

“They are our two main guys,” Reed said. “Everyone else on the team has a role but we need to get those two going because if they can get easy baskets then it gets everyone else going.”

Aldrich takes his leadership responsibilities seriously.

“I’m only a sophomore and I’m considered a veteran, which is still unreal to even think about,” he said. “A lot of the guys that went through last year’s run know that Sherron and I have that extra edge from being in those games last year. They have confidence in us that we will lead them in the right way, that we’ll bring them up when they’re down and just keep on attacking when things are going right.”

Aldrich and Collins certainly did that Saturday with a signature win over the Volunteers in what Self thought “was the best we played (all season), without question.”

It wasn’t easy with the high-flying, speedy Volunteers forcing 17 turnovers, blocking 10 shots, and making every inbounds pass a struggle.

“It was really big,” Aldrich said about the victory. “Regardless of their ranking, they’re a heck of a team. They showed heart throughout the whole game. They started to chip away when we had 10 seconds left. They didn’t give up and I think it’s a really good win for us because it puts us back on our feet and builds the momentum for the really tough stretch that we have coming up.”

Aldrich said it was an especially important win since the Jayhawks didn’t close out games in their three losses to Arizona, Syracuse, and Massachusetts.

“I think the guys knew we were good, but we didn’t know how good we could get yet,” Aldrich said. “Beating a great team in Tennessee, I think we can just get better and better.”

If Aldrich “just gets better and better,” that Arizona game nearly two weeks ago will be a distant memory for KU fans.

But not to Aldrich. He’s going to use that loss as motivation the rest of the year.

“It definitely got to me really good,” Aldrich said. “I knew (Hill) was really good and he took it at me, and I didn’t quite respond. ... I think the Arizona taste is going to be there all year. It’s one of those things that’s really tough to forget because as a team, we just didn’t quite play well so we’re having to learn from it.

“We’re still learning.”

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