"Step Your Game Up" -- Kansas 87 Oklahoma 78

There was a little less than 9 minutes left in the first half, and Kansas was down, 22-10. After a quick initial start, we were desperate for somebody, anybody to step up and take control. Unsurprisingly, they were focusing most of their attention on Cole and Sherron, making them unlikely candidates. However, this also opened the door.

Two straight Tyshawn Taylor threes later, the score was 22-16. About 2 minutes later, a third trey put the Jayhawks up, 24-23, a lead they would never relinquish again.

However, the game got close again. Oh boy, did it close. After a barrage of threes by Cade Davis, who had the game of his life for Oklahoma, and Omar Leary, a little-used reserve guard off of the bench, the Sooners had cut the once-20-point lead to only 3, 71-68. Sherron Collins received the ball, dribbled some, dished off to T2, went off a screen and once a defensive switch had Cade Davis guarding him, he simply dribbled up, dribbled between his legs and pulled up from 22 feet.

Swish.

However, after an even deeper three from Willie Warren, to cut the lead back to 3, it was up to Sherron again to step up.

This time, there was no switches, no passes, no screens. Once we beat the press and got the ball past halfcourt, Tyrel handed the ball to Sherron. There was about 28 seconds left on the shot clock. 20 seconds of pure dribbling later, Sherron took a pair of dribbles, again crossovered through his legs and, again, pulled up. This time, though, he was shooting from what had to be 30 feet away.

Swish.

And yet, we weren't done yet. Only seconds after Sherron's incredible three-pointer, Willie Warren came charging down. He saw a crease, and took it. Markieff Morris, who had bolted down the court in excitement (watching the final 5 minutes for the fourth time today, this became really evident) after Sherron's thirty-footer and was, thus, in awesome defensive possession underneath the basket, stepped up.

Charge.

End of momentum for the Sooners, and it simply turned into a glorified free throw shooting contest from there.

The game was all about stepping up, you see. And not just in fabulous box score lines, but in clutch moments where the game was on the line. The game seemed to be over countless times, and each time the opponent came charging back, or somehow mustered enough to hold off the surging opposition. But, Kansas stepped up more, elevated their game more substantially, despite having the home crowd work against them. Of course, Blake Griffin wasn't there, and that played a role. But Oklahoma still had a shot to win, to earn oh-so-much respect, to show they aren't just the Blake Griffins, and had the backing of 11,528 whiteout-wearing Boomer Sooner fans. And sure, they made some huge plays, and had some fringe players show up in big ways.

They just didn't have enough to overcome Kansas' incredible supply of it.

Player-by-players after the jump...

  • For the first time all season, there were three absolutely incredible performances in a single game. And while this made it quite difficult to select an MVP, the final selection shouldn't really be debated. When it mattered most, when there were 11,528 Sooner fans screaming at us and some white boy was hitting running 25-footers, or so it seemed, one guy stepped up. Sherron Collins. Three straight possessions, excluding the fastbreak T2 had that was swatted by Taylor Griffin, equalled three straight treys from SC, each one deeper than the one before it. It was absolutely incredible to watch. Plus, each subsequent three had a more vigorous reaction. He started off with just the fist pump across the chest, then the hop-around-kinda-thing, then my personal favorite, the sliding-backwards-while-yelling-really-effing-loud-semi-leaning-back one. Yeah, I love that one. And I'm telling you, not only did his threes motivate us simply by going in, but the way he reacted helped everyone out, as well. Markieff, especially. The Morris twins seem to be particularly moody, almost, where they can go through stretches played with incredible intensity, then other times play quite lacksadasical. Sherron's yelling, I'm telling you, got Kieffer to sprint down floor into position, which led him to draw the charge.
  • As absolutely incredible as Sherron's second half was, you could certainly make the argument that Tyshawn Taylor's first half was more needed, and even more impressive. The dude's not known for the long ball, but his three triples in the first half were some of the biggest baskets of his career. Maybe the biggest. A career-high 26, in such a setting, is unreal. And, this is coming off of quite a cold stretch for T2 that had lasted quite awhile; a couple of weeks, at least. No matter, I'll just show up in Norman, knock down a couple of threes (including banking one in; plus, the third one was from like 25-feet and barely even grazed the net), hit my throws and have a positive assist:turnover ratio. No bigs. Talk about stepping up. Plus, he was actually really solid on D, too, struggling when he switched on to Warren during those rare occasions, but playing excellent against Crocker.
  • While T2 had the first half, and SC the second, Cole Aldrich was the dependable second fiddle throughout the entire game. Obviously, he benefitted the most from Blake Griffin watching on the sidelines in a cowgirl shirt, as he could do whatever he wanted on both sides of the glass. You can talk all you want about the loss of Blake's scoring, but the thing that absolutely killed the Sooners was rebounding. All year long, with one of the 5 best rebounders in the country, they've dominated the glass. However, without Blake, we outrebounded them by 6, including a career-high 20 by Cole. He was fine offensively, missing some relatively easy shots but hitting most, and was money from the FT line after an uncharacteristically bad game against Iowa State. Basically, he was the steadying presence we so desperately needed for 40 minutes, while T2 and Sherron went on their own streaks. Also, he absolutely destroyed the Sooner big men.
  • In all actuality, the fourth best player for the Jayhawks Monday night was likely Markieff Morris. In an attempt to prove that the Morris twins are the inconsistent basketball players of all time, Marcus had a two-week stretch where he was the one emerging, only to regress back to non-con-McMorris, while Kieffer has emerged as our second best big. The biggest play of the game, IMO, was Kieffer's charge, and he was also working it on offense, picking up 7 much-needed points. He also played much better D than the other two members of the Law Firm (McMorris and Smash), containing Pattillo and Lesser Griffin much more efficiently. Marcus Morris, on the other hand, while not playing terribly, did little to stand out positively. He took an ill-advised three, was in foul trouble throughout the game, turned it over twice. Kieffer did a lot of the same stuff, but Kieffer made up for it with much better D.
  • Brady Morningstar had his worst game of the year. Without a doubt. Coming in, I was bragging on good ol' Bradystar, telling everyone how he was going to destroy Warren. Yeah, that didn't happen. At all. Warren did just about whatever he wanted when Brady was guarding him, and Brady never really recovered, staying in foul trouble the rest of the game. Plus, on offense, he missed two wide-open three-point attempts. I still love him to death, but too many more games like that and his standing as the third minute-earner on the team will quickly fall.
  • But who will those minutes go to? Honestly, probably Travis Releford. In an incredibly important time in the game, where the game was in balance, at a time where Brady's played all year, Releford was in the game in his place. Releford was playing comparable D, shockingly, and his offense is way better. On three straight offensive possessions, Releford played a role (two offensive rebounds himself, and another time he poked the ball straight to Cole) in picking up an offensive board, which led to, IIRC, 5 points.  And before his charge, he was playing nearly flawless basketball. He is still plenty raw, and has plenty of room for plenty of improvement, but he should see more meaningful minutes after Monday night. For how terrible his line looks, he actually played really well. Of course, that very well may be the bias showing through.
  • As opposed to Brady's zero good plays, not to be harsh, Tyrel Reed can boast one solid play. A fadeaway, clock-running-down three-pointer to close out the half was quite the shot, but that's about all Relly Ice contributed on offense all night. However, like Releford, he was playing surprisingly good D, so he got more PT than usual. He played fine with those minutes, I suppose, but his lack of success on offense hampers my evaluation.
  • Finally, the two remaining members of the Law Firm (I'm adding Thomas, sorry KGRTC). Mario Little and Quintrell Thomas both had little flashes of usefulness, but for the most part were just average. After his first couple of games after deciding not to redshirt, where he looked absolutely fabulous, Smash has really declined. He hit a crazy trick shot Monday night, but also got in really quick foul trouble and never really saw the floor in the second half. Trell had a couple of good boards, and played pretty solid D, but he's for sure still a work in progress. The good thing is that he's a freshman, so that's all well-and-good. I just hope that Smash can figure out his problems before the end of the season, or he might not see much PT in the important games in March. I don't think that happens, though.

All in all, a couple of A's (SC, T2, Cole) are enough to overcome a host of B-minus' and C's. The formula to win, though, is usually having CoSh show up big-time, then having at least one role player step their game up. Monday night was Tyshawn's turn. Against K-State, it was McMorris. In Waco, Kieffer. It was the missing element in our trip to Columbia (along with a whole mess of other junk; honestly, looking back, I can't believe we were as close as we were), and it will be again if we lose soon.

Oh, and just one more quick note. Since when do you have to apologize for winning on the road against the #3 team in the country? I understand, it doesn't have the same feel because of Blake's injury, but still. It isn't like the team is just one-player. Even without Blake, I think they are definitely a NCAA-caliber team. Willie Warren is ridiculous, and the rest of the supporting cast (other than Austin Johnson, who I've never, ever been impressed with) is solid enough to back him up.

So, dissenters, we hear you. And, a lot of what you're saying makes sense. But we're not going to say sorry just cause we're in fabulous shape to win the conference, and we "got lucky" in that we didn't have to face Blake. It's basketball, junk happens, get over it. Simple as that.

Oh, and I desperately want to face off with Oklahoma, now, in the Big 12 Tournament. I wouldn't mind a third matchup with Missouri, either (as, assuming we can hold down the fort on Sunday, would serve as the neutral court tiebreaker), but I really want to play Blake. And, while I don't think we would've won (it isn't a sure thing, but I bet we lose) Monday night if Blake were to play, in that hostile environment, I bet we'll be ready in another three-or-so weeks to take them on and beat them.

Mark my words.

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