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In a game that turned into a laugher quickly, the Jayhawks set themselves up for a shot at their 9th consecutive Big 12 Championship on Saturday at Baylor. A few thoughts:
* A truly dominant game by Jeff Withey tonight as he finished with 22 points on 8-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. Just as he did last game, he showed a soft perimeter touch, knocking down a turnaround jumper in the post, a 15ft trail jumper, and even a 3pt shot, the first of his career. Over the course of the last two games, Withey has only missed two shots from the floor.
* Young was fantastic tonight, especially during the 19-2 Kansas run that pushed the lead from 13-10 to 32-12 which essentially ended the game. He collected a couple of steals, had a couple of big dunks, and even led the break at one point during the game and finished with 14 points (on 5-6 shooting) and 7 rebounds.
* If Ben was going to pick a game to struggle during the course of the season at Allen Fieldhouse, this was the game to do it. McLemore finished only 5-14 from the floor and was 0-5 from beyond the arc. I still liked his aggressiveness in this game as he needs to be averaging right around 15 shots per game throughout the rest of the season. McLemore still managed to grab five rebounds in his limited action.
* Elijah, after a very sloppy start to the game was terrific. Early on he was almost looking for his teammates too much instead of just letting the game come to him. However, at around the 10 minute mark of the 1st half he settled down and seemingly had a beautiful assist on nearly every possession. While he finished with only 7 points on 3-8 shooting, he did finish with 12 assists and only 2 turnovers.
* Releford, as always, was terrific scoring 13 points on 2-3 shooting and an 8-10 performance from the line. Not much more you can say about the impact that Releford has had on this Kansas team.
* The bench didn't provide much of an impact in this game. Despite the fact that it looks like Perry Ellis is still pressing (amazing that this issue has lasted all season long) it was nice to see him knock down 6-7 free throws and grab 7 rebounds. Traylor somehow managed to finish with 5 of the Jayhawks 15 turnovers in this game despite limited touches.
* There just isn't a lot that can be said about this game. While Kansas got out to their expected fast start on Senior Night, the Red Raiders were actually playing with aggression and had the score at 13-10 until Kansas went on a 19-2 run to essentially end the game. From that point on it didn't seem like the Texas Tech players were very interested in being there as they gave up a number of dunks and easy looks to Kansas. The Jayhawks shot 62.5% from the floor in the 1st half of action.
* After attempting 18 1st half free throws against Texas Tech in their earlier meeting in Lubbock, Kansas was 14-17 from the line in the opening half in this game. Part of the Red Raiders game plan, besides "Icing" the wing ballscreen and sagging off of Young, was to obviously get physical with the Jayhawks. It was good to see Kansas respond and play so well despite the aggressive play by Texas Tech. Overall Kansas finished 29-36 from the line in this game.
* Defensively, the Jayhawks were outstanding once again, holding the Red Raiders to a 14-53 (26.4%) performance from the floor. They were engaged from the opening tip on the defensive end of the floor, switching screens late in the shot clock effectively, pressuring the basketball, and clogging up the paint with Withey's ability to contest shots.
* Offensively, Kansas really moved the ball well and they continue to run plays to try to get McLemore involved early and more often than usual. The ball movement, player movement, and timing were all terrific in this game.
* A very minor thing, but I really liked how Self handled the 2nd half with his rotations and in how he subbed out the five starters one by one so they could get the recognition they deserve.
One more big game left in the regular season in Waco against Baylor. With a win the Jayhawks would clinch their 9th consecutive Big 12 Championship and the #1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City the following weekend. In addition, Kansas is playing for one of the coveted #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. If they're able to win out and get this seed they would likely be placed in the South Regional in Dallas where scores of Jayhawk fans would be in attendance. A lot to play for but it all starts with a big one against the Baylor Bears on Saturday.
Our offensive lull came at the right time of year and it looks to me like we have some pretty permanent solutions to some of our issues.
EJ, since the KSU game where many thought he was on the edge of being replaced, has posted the following averages.
More important from my point of view he is using his athletic ability to collapse the defense. That is what we really need to see against weaker teams early in the tourney. We saw that when both he and Tharpe play poorly we really struggled offensively against any team with a pulse. I don't doubt this team's toughness against any high level opponent. They will fight to the end in those type of games. My bigger worry are early games and a lot of that is going away as we have started pounding on lesser teams in the last 7 games or so.
To me, the biggest change is that they're having FUN again. Even when things looked bleak in Ames, EJ had a huge grin. Heck, he was smiling ear-to-ear when he was walking off the court after fouling out in Stillwater. We sometimes get on guys for not being too serious, but I really love when they're clearly enjoying it. The problem with the 2010 team was that they never looked like they enjoyed playing together. I never thought Taylor and Collins got along, and it got infinitely worse when the alpha-dog Collins was no longer physically capable of being our best guard. Last year's team and this year's team were and are so successful in large part because everyone fits into their roles and doesn't seem to care what that may mean personally. We talk about what great role player / glue guys Releford and Young are (and for my money, they're the two best "glue guys" in the whole country), but really all four seniors have been fine all year deferring to a freshman because they know that pushing him would be best for the team. In press conferences, Johnson clearly is proud of Ben's accomplishments and how much they've been able to help him grow. They weren't enjoying being a team about a month ago, but they look like they're completely confident and excited to play every time they step on the court now.
If we keep up the positive body language, tell me you don't think we have a great shot at Atlanta.
I completely agree. I noticed the same thing when I went down to the Texas game in Lawrence. Even before the game Elijah looked loose and relaxed and I believe that it's the reason he's played so well as of late. When he plays well this team is tough to beat.
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