Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Declawing the Tigers

The Recap: KU came out a little sluggish, but led by 12 at the half on their way to a 19 point blowout of the hated Missouri Tigers. The score may have been 90-71, but coach Bill Self can see his team has a lot of room for improvement. They turned the ball over 14 times, only caused eight of their own, and watched as guards J.T. Tiller and Keon Lawrence drove right by them most of the game. Brandon Rush led a balanced Jayhawk attack with 19 points. Mario Chalmers added 15. Sasha Kaun and Sherron Collins each had 12 off the bench. Darrell Arthur spent his third consecutive game in foul trouble, but scored 13 in just 17 minutes. KU shot 47% from the field, 7-21 from three, outrebounded Missouri 46-23, and nailed 21-25 from the line. The Tigers didn't make a single three point shot in 10 attempts, shot 46% from the field, and were led by Keon Lawrence's 25 points on 10-13 shooting.

The Whup

Brandon Looking Smooth - Brandon Rush, KU's talented Junior Wing looked as close to 100% as he has all year. He played 33 minutes, scored 19 points on 7-13 shooting including 3-7 threes, and grabbed six rebounds. He is getting the lift on his jumpers and on the glass that he lacked earlier in the year. Last night Rush actually drove to the hole more instead of camping out on the three point line. He also said after the game, he may shed the brace: “My knee’s starting to get a lot better. I’m starting to get back to 100 percent. I’m starting to take off the knee brace this week, so it’s pretty good...I’m gonna take it off this week, try to play without it this Saturday.”

The Wrath of Kaun - I have been stroking Darnell Jackson all season for his improvement, but what about the Big Russian? With Arthur in foul trouble early again, Sasha Kaun was a beast in the post. He hit four of his first five shots and scored nine of his 12 in the first half. In doing so, he showed his massive strength a solid couple of post moves that made me shake my head. Can this really be the same guy who spent his first three years firing fastballs at the rim? Credit Danny Manning for doing wonders to his post game and for his confidence.

Cole Stepping Up - Another big man who keeps getting better and better is Freshman Cole Aldrich. Kaun and Arthur both had three fouls in the first half and Aldrich was pressed into service. He played 12 inspired minutes, grabbing a season-high nine boards, scoring six points, and hitting all four free throws. Cole is as fundamentally sound as a Freshman big man can be. He never brings the ball down low on a rebound and you won't see him jacking up and outside shots not in his range. Next year, you will see Cole 30 minutes a night, so the 6-12 minutes he sees each game are a good way for him to get his feet wet.

More Balance, Less Ego - Five players again scored in double figures, all over 12 points. Rush took 13 shots, Chalmers 10, Arthur nine, Collins and Kaun eight each, Jackson and Robinson six each. There are no ballhogs on this team and they usually find a way to get the hot man the rock. Last night, that was Rush. Chalmers, Robinson, and Collins combined for 14 assists.

The Weak Beav

Sherron is O.O.C. - Sherron Collins is a magnificent talent; the fastest player with the ball on the team, and a crossover wizard with three point range. That said, for the third consecutive game, he has been out of control with the ball. He turned the ball over three times last night, but on numerous occasions he has been extremely careless, trying to do too much. Self has been on his case lately as well. Last night, upon entering the game, he threw a bad alley oop pass that sailed past Arthur. One second, one turnover. He did hit 2-4 from deep however.

Dribble Penetration - ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, who seems to do every KU game, nailed it last night when he said KU's guards are allowing their man to blow right by them off the dribble. It killed them at K-State with Jacon Pullen and Bill Walker, and continued last night with Keon Lawrence and J.T. Tiller. It's one thing when this is happening and turnovers are being caused, but the KU steal machine has slowed down. Missouri only committed eight turnovers. “They were quicker than us. I shouldn’t say that, but their guards went anywhere they wanted with the ball,” Self said. “We have to focus on keeping guys in front of us. We’re not sound. We’re off balance. We lunge. We challenge in the backcourt, and they dribble past us, and we put the big guys in harm’s way. They got the ball where they wanted it. It’s frustrating because their guards are quick, but ours could have done a better job.”

Foul Trouble - Seriously, let's hope this doesn't become a trend. There is no doubt Darrell Arthur is the most talented of the three excellent KU big men. But he needs to do a better job of not committing the silly touch fouls. This makes three straight games he has been in foul trouble. When he is on the floor, it opens up the rest of the offense because is mid-range jumper is so money. It seems as if the guys he guards have tried to face him up and draw contact and he is biting. said Self: “It’s ridiculous ‘Shady’ gets three fouls in two minutes." “I can’t catch a break,” Arthur said of picking up fouls. “I did a better job the second half of not fouling and keeping my man in front of me. I caught a bad break trying to slide over and take a charge, and then I caught another one early to give me two fouls. I am trying, but the fouls I’m making are stupid fouls. I need to play with my head and my feet.”

Analysis - It's always great to beat Missouri, the hated kitties from Columbia. They always seem to play KU well, but playing their third game in six nights and dealing with the suspensions of several players and working them back in last night didn't work in their favor. They looked gassed. Not to mention, there is a talent gap there. Kaun and Aldrich were great off the bench, Rush looked like the man of old, and KU's free throw shooting (21-25) and rebounding (46-23) were great. We can't say this was a great win, as Missouri's style plays right into KU's hands, but any win over your rival is a good win. The next two games will test the Jayhawks mettle as Baylor comes to town and followed by a Big Monday trip to Texas.

Games Quotes (courtesy of KUsports.com)

Brandon Rush on his knee: “My knee’s starting to get a lot better. I’m starting to get back to 100 percent. I’m starting to take off the knee brace this week, so it’s pretty good...I’m gonna take it off this week, try to play without it this Saturday.”

Brandon Rush on Sasha Kaun: “He’s starting to play pretty good. He’s rebounding the ball now, and he’s starting to score down low on the block. I don’t think anybody down there can stop him because he’s so long and big and strong.”

Sasha Kaun on going against Cole Aldrich in practice: “It’s been helpful to him. It’s my last year, not much left here, so I’m just trying to play harder and set an example for the younger guys, and hopefully they’ll pick it up looking at it.”

Cole Aldrich on his improvement as the season’s gone on: “I really enjoy watching myself improve. It’s fun to really go through practice and think ‘Wow, four months ago, I couldn’t score against Sasha, I couldn’t do anything.’ Now, I get a few moves on him every once in awhile.”

Bill Self on Bobby Knight’s sudden retirement: “I’m disappointed, selfishly. He has a right to do it however he wants to do it, and I’m sure I’ll talk to him at some point and say congratulations, but he’s great for our league. He brings interest to our league. I know that from a selfish standpoint I’d love for him to come to Allen Fieldhouse one more time and that kind of stuff, so I’m disappointed, but not for the right reasons. I kinda felt the same way when Barry Sanders retired. You know? How could he do that? How could Barry retire when he had so much good stuff left? And I kind of feel that same way about coach. I’m happy for him, but still at the same time, I think it takes away from the interest level a little bit in our league.”

Bill Self on the first half: “I thought the first 8-10 minutes was fabulous basketball. I thought Missouri played great the first 10 minutes. We couldn’t guard them, and they couldn’t guard us, to be honest with you. Both teams scored at will to start, but the intensity level was pretty good. We’ve got to get better defensively. We don’t guard on the perimeter, but our big guys are really starting to rebound the ball better.”

Bill Self on his team’s offensive rebounding: “We missed 35 shots and got 19 of them back, so I would say that anytime you’re above that 50 percent, that’s pretty good, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Bill Self on Cole Aldrich: “I thought he was great. Cole gets nine rebounds in 12 minutes...He’s gonna be a really good player...Cole’s smart, and he picks up stuff quick...It amazes me. Everybody talks about Darnell being most improved, and he is based on last year, but our players would tell you Cole from Late NIght to now, it’s unbelievable the progress he’s made. I think that Danny’s done a great job with him, but I also think those other three big guys have done a great job with him.”

Bill Self on Sasha Kaun: “I think Sasha’s really a good player. I think sometimes he doesn’t play to his athletic ability and size. He’s getting more consistent doing that. He played pretty good out in Boulder, as well.”

Bill Self on defending the three, especially against Matt Lawrence: “They didn’t get off many threes today. Lawrence got off I thought about three good looks in the first half and we were lucky he didn’t make them, but I didn’t think they got off a ton of good looks, I really don’t. I think that’s one thing we did do, and primarily Brandon, who did a pretty good job guarding him.”

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