Aldrich Ready to Deal Some Pain on Saturday

Cole Aldrich is turning his game on when KU needs him the most heading into some big battles at No. 18th-ranked Temple on Saturday, at #14 Tennessee on Jan. 10, and then at Nebraska on Jan. 13 to begin Big 12 Conference play.

After a month of the "bug" and some sub-par performances, Cole Aldrich's health and play are improving.

The 6-11, 245-pound junior center has come up huge the last two games, recording double-doubles against California (10 points and 10 rebounds, plus five blocks) on Dec. 22 and Belmont on Tuesday night (11 points, 14 rebounds, with six blocks and three steals).

Aldrich dominated the early part of the game vs. Belmont at Allen Fieldhouse, doing his best impression of former NBA star Dikembo Mutombo with four blocks in just over four minutes into the contest. He had nine rebounds and five blocks in the first half, and keyed a pivotal 8-0 run after Belmont had outscored KU 15 to 3 to take a one-point lead (15-14) with 9:44 remaining before halftime.

After KU coach Bill Self called a 30-second timeout, Aldrich recorded a layup, block, steal, assist and free throw to help give Kansas a 22-15 lead. Although it wasn't pretty, KU held off the Bruins and won, 81-51.

Aldrich said he really wasn't thinking of a triple-double despite his block party in the first half.

"I knew I had quite a few blocks," he said. "I just came with the same mindset I do every game, is try to hold the paint down with rebounds and blocking shots. I ended up with six, which is pretty good."

While he was an imposing defensive presence, Aldrich was held to just five field goals. He made four of his shots.

"It was a little tough," Aldrich said. "They kind of trapped the post a little bit. I think at one point in time ... even when our bigs weren't getting the touches, we just settled. I think we just got to continue go at our bigs because our bigs are one of the good component to our team. It's tough guarding Marcus (Morris), myself, Jeff (Withey) now, Kieff (Markieff Morris) and Thomas (Robinson) in there."

Self stressed Aldrich needs to be more aggressive offensively.

"When big guys catch it six inches and dribble under the basket and fan it out, you play Texas, you're never gong to score a basket," Self said.

Yet Self added:

"Cole had some good spark. I can be mad at Cole, but where would we be without him? He gets 14 rebounds, the next guy gets four. At halftime, he had nine of our 19 rebounds and he only played 15 minutes. I think Cole could be more aggressive on one area, but he is going after the ball and blocking shots, which is good. Cole had some good moments."

Self wasn't pleased with his team's overall performance, including poor rebounding and defensive effort, and only getting 50 percent of the 50-50 balls. He said KU was "awful" and "so soft." The Jayhawks were outrebounded on the offensive glass, 15 to 7, by the smaller Bruins, and barely won the rebounding battle, 40-39.

"That just can't happen," Aldrich said.

Aldrich continued echoing Self's sentiments.

"We really didn't stop anybody," Aldrich said. "They really got whatever they want whenever they want. ... That's one thing we got to do is just guard hard and play with more of a chip on our shoulder and have that mindset that our guy is not going to score."

"I could sit here all day and name different things (we need to improve)," Aldrich added, "but as long as we rebound and move the ball, just go after the ball really hard. We had a few loose balls today that we should have had. We got to get those 50-50 balls, and I think once we do that, we can continue to get better. ... We really played hard last year, and I think we're going to continue that mold and play that way again this year."

At least one positive came out of the Belmont game: Aldrich is finally getting better after a month of illness. The Minnesota native admitted it's been a rough period as he's "continued to fight through it."

"It's tough when you're not feeling that well," Aldrich said. "I personally wasn't playing that great, at least in my mind. I knew there were so many different things I could help the team win and just my health was holding me back a little bit from doing that."

Aldrich is now trying to put those health woes behind. And that could be a nightmare to future opponents like Temple, Tennessee, and the Big 12 Conference.

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd certainly had no answers for Aldrich inside.

"At the mid-major level, our big guys are usually able to score and we generally try to go to them. That was taken away tonight by Cole Aldrich," Byrd said. "He is strong, big and long. ... He is a really good player and not just a big guy.

"He was my biggest concern coming into the game. I thought when anybody else was in the game we at least had a chance to get some angles and scores. You just can't move Aldrich where you want to."

Belmont senior forward Keaton Belcher agreed.

"It was tough," Belcher said. "I think it said on the scouting report that he has a seven-foot, four-inch wing span. He is tough to shoot over and he blocked quite a few shots. ... It definitely took a big part of our offense away because we have a few good post players ourselves that weren't able to get flowing offensively. We had to rely on the three-pointer more than we usually do. It makes you not want to drive into him because you are either going to miss or he is going to block you."

Aldrich is now looking to block some more shots against Temple on Saturday.

"We got a really good Temple team coming up here in Philly," Aldrich said. "It's going to be a fun game. I'm really excited."

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