Marcus Morris Making Strides

It was certainly not the greatest beginning to Marcus Morris' college career. In his first exhibition game against Washburn on Nov. 4 in Allen Fieldhouse, the freshman forward was lost defensively. He struggled mightily and fouled out in seven minutes with just two points.

Despite his poor debut, KU coach Bill Self saw great potential in Marcus Morris' game.

"Marcus Morris could be a terrific defender," Self said afterwards. "You guys (media) can look at me at the end of the season and make a case he could be your best defender from a physical standpoint."

Flash forward over three months later to Feb. 18 against Iowa State, where Morris accepted his most difficult defensive assignment of the season. He was in charge of stopping ISU star 6-10 forward Craig Brackins, who burned Morris and the Jayhawks for 42 points in their last meeting in Ames on Jan. 24.

Morris turned in a grade ‘A' performance, helping hold Brackins to just 7 of 21 shooting for 20 points in KU's 72-55 victory.  The Philadelphia native set the tone early in the game defensively, bodying Brackins and getting a hand in his face. KU jumped out to 16-2 lead as Brackins missed two of his first three shots and two straight free throws.

Markieff Morris and Cole Aldrich also took turns guarding Brackins, but it was Marcus who truly put the clamps on the Cyclones' star.

"He shot the ball almost every time that he got it," Morris said. "If you limit his touches he can't really shoot as much. Last game I was kind of laid back because I didn't know his game and he was hitting tough shots. Our main focus was to limit his points and I knew if we did that we would win."

For Morris, this was his defining game of the season. He also added eight points, six rebounds, and two steals in 29 minutes. He had tunnel vision entering the game about stopping Brackins.

"That was a game I needed for myself to see where I was at defensively," Morris said. "I told myself before the game I'm not worried about anything else on the court (besides defending Brackins). I told myself he won't get 42 tonight. Once I knew that, the game was over."

"I wasn't worried about any offense," Morris added. "Once you get into defense, your offense starts to come. My main focus was guarding Brackins and limiting his touches and limiting his points. ...I think it was a hard earned 20. Brackins is a great player. He's a great inside out player. I think we made him work for everything he got today. It wasn't as easy as it was at Iowa State."

That's for sure.

Brackins praised KU's defense after the game.

"They were definitely more physical than the last game," Brackins said. "They knocked me on screens and shots, but I tried to fight through. They got me a little frustrated. I just couldn't make a shot."

"They were just trying to bump me off and trying to make me uncomfortable," he added. "It worked.  I just played terrible."

Self praised both Marcus and his twin brother Markieff (four points, three boards and two blocks in 16 minutes) for their defense on Brackins.

"Somebody asked me if we're getting better. The biggest difference in our team is the Morris twins," Self said. "(They're) getting better. I thought they both did a great job on him. Markieff got a couple of fouls when Brackins backed him down, but I thought they both did great.

"Marcus impacted the game in a big way. They're not scoring a ton, but they're making basketball plays. We need to keep them getting better. That will be a big key whether we can finish strong."

The Iowa State game marked the second straight impressive performance from Marcus Morris after Self sat him against Missouri on Feb. 9 for bumping the referee. (Self later said it was an unintentional bump from Morris, who played just 11 minutes versus the Tigers.)

He was dandy in KU's 85-74 victory at K-State on Feb. 14, scoring a career-high 15 points with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Morris also had nine points and four rebounds in just 14 minutes versus Oklahoma State on Feb. 7, and 13 points and six boards in 16 minutes against Baylor on Feb. 2.

"I think I'm trying my hardest to turn the corner and contribute to my team," he said. "Scoring is not important to me. If I can grab 10 rebounds or score 10 points, I'd rather grab 10 rebounds. I just want to contribute to the team and be a match-up problem like coach says."

Morris will continue to work on his defensive game, buoyed by his strong performance against Brackins.

"I think I've become more solid on defense," Morris said. "I'm taking charges. In prep school and high school, I never took a charge until I got here." Top Stories