Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another Signature Performance

Recap: The Kansas Jayhawks are rolling right now. If there is a better team in the country right now, I'd like to see them. KU used a 20-4 run to start the game, Oklahoma lost their best player, Blake Griffin to a sprained knee in the first five minutes, and the game was essentially over. Darnell Jackson was everywhere again, scoring 17 and grabbing eight boards. Next to him was Darrell Arthur, who put on a fade away jumper clinic to the tune of 14 points with his eight rebounds. More importantly, the real Brandon Rush showed up for the second straight time, nailing four threes on his way to 16 points and snatching a team high nine rebounds. Mario Chalmers was brilliant again, letting the game come to him. He shot 4-5 from the field, netting 13 points and dishing out five assists. KU outrebounded Oklahoma 38-29, collected nine steals while only turning the ball over seven times, and nailed 17-18 from the line. Another dominating performance for the Jayhawks who are off to their best star since 96-97.

The Whup

Domination Down Low. The difference in this year's team is that they have two legitimate post threats in Darnell Jackson or Darrell Arthur. There were 16 NBA scouts in the crowd last night and each one of them had to have come away impressed with these two. Arthur's fade away jumper and jump hook were on full display. Jackson's 15 foot jumper was automatic and he was all over the floor again. No player has raised his NBA stock more than D-Block. With Sasha Kaun playing like a beast on the defensive end (2 blocks), and a solid performance out of Cole Aldrich (six points, three boards, three blocks), KU's depth up front is unmatched.

Rush is Alive! The best move Bill Self made all year was benching Sasha Kaun for Darnell Jackson and lighting a fire under Sasha. That was until he went to the press ripping Rush for playing passive basketball. The next two games, Rush has turned back into the guy we saw last season who was destined for the NBA. He followed up his 19 point performance at Nebraska with 16, including four threes. He grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists, and had two steals. Hopefully, this is the end of passive Brandon. "I’m just feeling it. Everything’s going right, staying aggressive, putting myself in a position to make plays for my teammates, and I don’t know, I’ve just got the hot hand right now.”

Balance. Another thing to love about this team is the amount of weapons they have. Last night was a prime example of the balance that coaches love. Arthur (14), Jackson (17), Rush (16), and Sherron Collins (9) each shot the ball 10 times. Mario Chalmers took just five shots, but nailed four of them for 13 points. Russell Robinson is the consummate teammate. He has no problem deferring to his teammates and running the show. He took just two shots, scored four points, and added five assists to just one turnover in 24 minutes.

Rest and Relaxation. The underrated aspect of the blowouts is that the starters are getting plenty of rest. Unlike the majority of the teams in the Top 25, not one single Jayhawk averages more than 28 minutes a game (Chalmers). Last night was no different; Rush played 31 minutes, but clearly didn't need to. Chalmers played 28, Jackson 25, Robinson and Arthur 24. Collins is happy getting starter minutes off the bench (26 last night), Kaun played 17 and Aldrich 13. I expect a closer game Saturday at Mizzou, so we will see the breakdown that night.

Cole's Progress. Freshman Cole Aldrich isn't playing the minutes he would like to, but each opportunity he gets, he continues to improve on both ends of the floor. He showed nice touch, making two of his three field goals, and blocked three more shots. For a Freshman playing on a veteran team, you can really see his basketball IQ is high. He sets good screens, is usually in good rebounding position, and is a solid defender. Playing everyday in practice against Jackson, Arthur, and Kaun has really paid off. Props to Cole for continuing to work hard and being a good teammate even though he isn't getting the run he would be getting everywhere else.

Luminaries in the Crowd. Everyone loves the Allen Fieldhouse experience. Sports Center anchors Scott Van Pelt and Neil Everett made their third annual pilgrimage to Lawrence. This time they brought fellow ESPN personality Sean Salisbury. Interviewed in the second half, SVP said "if there's a better atmosphere that Allen Fieldhouse, I'd like to see it." Everett said "Darnell Jackson looks like a lottery pick." See below. Also spotted in the crowd were Hall of Famer George Brett, Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry, Blazers GM and KU grad Kevin Pritchard, and Suns assistant GM Vinny Del Negro.

The Weak Beav

No B. Griffin. It would have been nice to see a full game of Oklahoma Freshman stud Blake Griffin, but he left the game five minutes in with a sprained knee. Said coach Bill Self: "I’m sure it deflated them when Blake whenever down, it would deflate us. He’s terrific, and I certainly hope it’s not a major or season-ending type of injury."

Game Quotes (courtesy of kusports.com)

Brandon Rush on Blake Griffin’s injury: “It’s a sad thing that he got hurt, because we’ve seen him on film and I admired him. I wanted to see what he played like, I heard he was pretty great.”

Brandon Rush on his hot play to start the Big 12 slate: “I’m just feeling it. Everything’s going right, staying aggressive, putting myself in a position to make plays for my teammates, and I don’t know, I’ve just got the hot hand right now.”

Mario Chalmers on KU’s margin of victory Monday night: “We’re a little bit surprised, but when Blake went down, it took a lot of their offensive power away. We just fed off of that, just tried to put our foot on their throat and put it away.”

Darnell Jackson on the Jayhawks’ improved free throw shooting: “After every practice, we take like 45 minutes to shoot free throws. No talking. You shoot two free throws, run it down and back, shoot two free throws, run it down and back. We’re just constantly shooting free throws after every practice, and it’s just paying off.”

Darnell Jackson on whether he’s got more in the tank to add to his already impressive play this year: “Yes, I think I can (do more). I think I can give a lot more than I’m giving now.”

Bill Self on Blake Griffin’s injury affecting OU some: “I’m sure it deflated them when Blake whenever down, it would deflate us. He’s terrific, and I certainly hope it’s not a major or season-ending type of injury, but we played well tonight. We were definitely pretty charged, and I thought our guys were flying around pretty good defensively for the most part.”

Bill Self on OU coach Jeff Capel claiming KU is a much better team than Memphis: “I think it probably is close. I think we’re pretty good, and I know Memphis is very good...I appreciate Jeff saying that, but I wouldn’t read too much into that.”

Bill Self on his team being a ‘spurt team’: “I think that’s what our team is - we’re a spurt team. We can putter around and be behind 17-15 or be ahead 17-15, and three minutes later have a double-figure lead. And that’s what most really good teams can do.”

Bill Self on how he felt with his team’s performance in playing two games in three days: “It’s not that big a deal. These guys are 20 years old, they shouldn’t get tired. And the other thing is we catch some breaks where maybe other people don’t. I think we had two guys play 30 minutes against Nebraska, and then tonight we had one guy play 30 minutes, where our opponents a lot of times are playing 35. So if anything, it probably helps us against our opponent because we probably have more depth than most people.”

Bill Self on going on the road to play Missouri this Saturday: “ They’ve got a good team, and I really enjoy going to Columbia. We’re not going to vacation there this summer, but I really enjoy the atmosphere going there. It’s been great overtime we’ve been, and I anticipate it being a juiced up atmosphere going there Saturday.”

Up Next: The 17-0 Jayhawks visit their bitter rivals the Missouri Tigers on Saturday night. This is KU's best start since the 96-97 team who's first loss was at Missouri in the double OT thriller.

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