That game was even more exciting than the first one in Larence. I'm not sure how many of you watched other conference tournaments over the weekend, but it was pretty clear that yesterday's fantastic game between Kansas and Texas was clearly the best of the weekend. Watching Big 10 games is like watching paint dry, the Pac 10 with UCLA being knocked out early was painstakingly boring and the SEC is FULL of horrible teams. Really, save UCLA, Ohio State and Florida, all of the national championship contenders are in the Big East, Big 12 or ACC. Before we get into yesterday's game, these are my championship contenders:
Of those teams, Maryland is the most unique probably. Maryland was so hot recently I think they could sneak into the Final Four and cause some damage there. Texas has Do-Rant, 'nuff said. The rest are pretty widely accepted.
OK, enough national championship talk, let's discuss yesterday's amazing game.
After it seemed like they couldn't miss yet again in the first half, we actually outshot them throughout the game shooting 40% from the field compared to their 38% and 38% compared to 30% for Texas and lastly we shot 87% from the free throw line compard to their 75%. Our achilles' heel all season long has been our free throw shooting and yesterday we showed that we can make free throws in pressure situations, shooting 20 from 23 from the line which kept us in the game at the end of regulation and allowed us to keep a lead in overtime. They were winning 32-10 at one point, a 22 point lead for those of you mathematically challenged, and we came all the way back beginning with a Brandon Rush 3 pointer to get it to 32-13. I was just watching the game on TV, but it was more than obvious that the crowd was extremely pro-Jayhawk and the place erupted when that 3 went down, proof that the fans weren't giving up on the team.
It was an off day for Super but he hit the biggest shot of the day with his 3 pointer with 19 seconds left on the clock. I get chills just thinking about that, it was one of the best shots of the year for this team. Even though it didn't seem that he had a good game, he did score 17 points which is pretty impressive and played good defense. I'm waiting for him to explode in the NCAA Tournament, especially if we have to play guard-oriented Villanova in the second round.
Much like Super, he had a solid game with 19 points and 8 rebounds but he didn't stick out as having a 'great' game. He has struggled twice now against Kevin Do-Rant and even though it is the National Player of the Year, Brandon has done a good job twice against him in the second halves of games. I still maintain that Wright is the most important player for us in the next -hopefully- 6 games in the NCAA Tournament.
Talk about stepping up. Rush had arguably his best game of the season against Texas, even if the statistics don't say so. While Chalmers usually hits the big shot (he did hit the biggest shot of the night with the game-tying 3 with 19 ticks left) Brandon stepped up and hit big shot after big shot. His biggest of the night, while seeming unimportant at the time, was the 3 that he hit when the score was 32-10 to begin our comeback. He had 19 points and my favorite part of his line is that he shot 17 times. Usually, teams are hoping a player or two will shoot less on their team, but with the unselfish qualities of Brandon Rush I have repeatedly wanted him to shoot more. Plus, I can't think of a bad shot off of the top of my head and while I'm sure he did have a couple, the key is he is taking 17 shots and they are almost all good shots.
Another ho-hum game for Russell and while he is still starting as he should be, he is definately losing more and more minutes to Sherron Collins late in the game. Before Chalmers fouled out it was clear that SC, Super and Brandon were going to be the only guards that would see PT in the OT. He didn't hit enough open shots (5 points 1-4 FG%) and while he had a decent assist to turnover ratio (3:1) he just didn't have a good game overall. Although we did prove we can beat good teams without major production from him, we will still need him in the NCAA Tournament to beat quality opponents starting with the winner of Kentucky/Villanova.
As much as Brandon stepped up, Sasha stepped up that much more. He had, in my opinion, his best game of the season in arguably the biggest game of the year so far even though he only had 3 rebounds and 0 points. How can those numbers lead to one of his best games? Well, he played very good defense down low and he was a real physical presense throughout the entire game. I have never been prouder of Sasha and he really stepped up and shut down the down low for James and Co.
That is the way to put a slump to rest Sherron! He actually led the team in scoring (barely) with 20 points and hit a couple of big shots himself. He played 30 of the 45 minutes compared to 31 played by Russell and 30 played by Super (with foul trouble the entire game and fouling out in OT). While Russell will continue to start, don't be surprised to see Sherron get more playing time, especially late in games, throughout the Tournament because honsetly, our offense was best last night with SC leading the charge. Whenever we needed a basket in the last 5 minutes I found myself saying "Get the ball to Sherron, he'll set up the offense." Who would have thunk that we would be saying that about a freshman, especially a pedal-to-the-medal one like Sherron. Yet here I was, wanting whoever had the ball whether it be Super, Russell, Julian, Brandon, etc. to get the ball to this pesky freshman from Chicago and see what he could do with the ball in his hands. His driving ability is purely insane and our offense now runs smoothest with him at the point and Super, Brandon, Julian and Darrell Arthur also in the game. You can really insert in either Sasha or Darnell instead of Arthur, but Arthur is without a doubt the most physically gifted on the offensive side of the ball. I can't wait for the nation to figure out just how good Sherron is, hopefully we will get far enough for people to catch on.
As streaky as this kid is, he has to be due a good game sometime in the near future. He began his slump the same time as Sherron and while SC broke out of it yesterday Darrell continued it by shooting 1-5 and scoring only 2 points. He needs to start playing better, our depth on the interior is crucial to our success over teams (and I know this is looking ahead) like Southern Illinois and UCLA.
A very good game for Darnell, especially considering that he played the last 9 minutes of regulation and all of OT with 4 fouls and never picked up his fifth. Especially considering how physical he plays, that is quite a feat and despite his 0-3 shooting he clearly proved his worth to the Jayhawks as a player who does the dirty work. He is actually the big man who played the 2nd most minutes (26) of all our big men with Julian Wright's 33 the only player who saw more PT. Plus, don't forget his huge, clutch 6-6 FT shooting including two clutch ones at the end of OT that began to clinch it.
What an exciting game to watch and if we hadn't already we proved to all of the talking heads at ESPN that we can truly beat any team. Even if you spot the other team 22 points we can come back, yes even if Do-Rant is on the other side.
I love this team, I would feel at least somewhat confident against anyone in the country right now, hopefully that doesn't change.