Jayhawks Cruise, Little Starts

Junior Mario Little joins the starting lineup for Bill Self as KU trounces KState, 87-71, to open conference play in Allen Fieldhouse.

Tuesday night, the University of Kansas defeated in-state rival Kansas State 87-71 inside the comfy confines of Allen Fieldhouse. Led on the night by junior guard Sherron Collins 24 points and four assists, freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor's 20 points and sophomore big man Cole Aldrich's 15 points and eight rebounds, the Jayhawks opened the game with an 18-0 run while notching their 37th win in 39 tries against K-State.

While K-State did come as close as three points during the second, the Jayhawks hot shooting (58.3%) from the field and a stifling defense that held the Wildcats to just 39.1% shooting was just too much to overcome.

"We were amped, the intensity was there, the energy there," said Collins after the win. "Coach explained to us all week how tough they were going to try and come out and try to punk us. They were going to try and get up under us and pressure us and that we've got to drive pressure. I think tonight we were they aggressor and we came out and pressured them more than we pressured us.

"When we hit him they were surprised and they couldn't counter it very well. They got back in the game and they gave us a shot, but I think we were just tougher and wanted it more than they did."

As big as anything else in the game was the insertion of junior forward Mario Little into the starting lineup. A highly touted junior college recruit, Little had played sparingly due to injury issues and had come oh so close to deciding to redshirt on Monday night.

In his first start, Little scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in a season high 13 minutes of action.

"I knew that if I was going to play I might as well start playing better," said the Chicago native. "I can't look back now."

Hampered by a stress reaction in his leg and then a broken hand, Little had to weigh closely whether or not to sit out and have two full years of eligibility. Little was also worried about how much he could contribute and ultimately decided that he was ready to play despite his worries.

"I've been thinking about it," said Little of the decision to play instead of redshirt. "Should I do it for the team, or should I look out for me or what's best for me? I wasn't totally looking out for what was best for me, it was just that I really didn't think I could help the team if I wasn't healthy.

"I still had to show what I could do here"

Pleased with his team's performance and the way they responded to K-State's second half run, Self pointed out how encouraging it was that his team was able to sustain a lead with both Collins and Aldrich sitting for an extended period of time with foul trouble. He also discussed the impact of adding Little to the starting lineup.

"He's not a four man, he's a three man playing the four and he's not very big," said Self of the junior. "But, he made some big shots and I thought he looked a lot more comfortable tonight."

Self also addressed Little's decision to forego applying for a redshirt and play out the season.

"He has a chance to really impact this team in a big way if he stays healthy," said Self. "Who knows if he's going to have health two years from now? Who knows if he would have the same chance to impact the team two years from now? I think that it's one of those deals that there's no right or wrong.

"It's a right decision if he stays healthy, it's a wrong one if he doesn't"

In the end, Self made it clear to Little that he could help as long as he was healthy and that the decision was ultimately up to Little.

"I thought it was a selfless decision," added Self. "But, we didn't recruit him here to redshirt. We recruited him here to impact our team and I really think that his thinking is that, ‘I can impact this team.' "

With the win, the Jayhawks move to 12-4 on the season and they open up Big XII play with a 1-0 record. Up next is a Saturday trip to Colorado. After experiencing some bumps on the road, Self is counting on his team having the confidence to get a win away from home.

"I think the best thing that we can do is go have success on the road," said Self. "We've got win away from Allen Fieldhouse and we know that. We've got an opportunity to play at Colorado on Sunday and hopefully we'll stay hungry. The guys should feel better about themselves from a confidence standpoint after this game and hopefully they'll sustain it."

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