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Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Narrow win beneficial in long run for Jayhawks

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What, me worry?

Not Keith Langford, who wasn't gnawing his fingernails in the latter stages of last Saturday's 93-85 victory over Tulsa at Kemper Arena.

"I was not worried at all. Actually, I was glad we had a close game," Langford, KU's 6-foot-4 freshman guard from Fort Worth, Texas, said after the Jayhawks survived a gritty TU team that erased a 15-point second-half deficit and tied the game at 82 with 2:51 to play.

"Too many of those 20- or 30-point games will hurt you," added Langford, who scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in 19 minutes. "Close games are good going into conference season."

But tell the truth, Keith, weren't you the slightest bit worried giant-killer Tulsa of the Western Athletic Conference could have held on for a shocking holiday victory? After all, the Golden Hurricane seemed intent on making KU pay for last year's 23-point win.

"I was pretty confident. Actually, I knew we'd win," Langford said. "With the veterans we have out there, I knew we'd win the game."

Veterans like junior guard Kirk Hinrich, who hit two big driving layups and grabbed several key rebounds in the final moments.

"Kirk is big-time," Langford said. "It's why he is an all-conference player. He's supposed to do that."

The Jayhawks' younger players all contributed as three of KU's four eligible freshmen played significant minutes.

Langford hit one of four floor shots, but made four of four free throws and had three boards with one assist and a turnover.

Forward Wayne Simien hit three of five shots, good for 10 points, all in the second half. Simien hit four of five free throws and had six boards in 12 minutes.

Point guard Aaron Miles missed all five of his floor shots but did hit six of eight free throws and scored six points with six assists and six turnovers.

Miles drew the wrath of KU coach Roy Williams by fouling Antonio Reed on a three-point shot in the second half. Reed hit all three free throws several minutes after senior Brett Ballard fouled Dante Swanson on a three. Swanson hit that three and the free throw, too.

"I mean freshmen will make freshman mistakes. We learn from every game and practice," Langford said.

Williams is high on his rookie class, which includes shooting guard Michael Lee, who didn't play against Tulsa, and red-shirt point guard Jeff Hawkins.

"Defensively, Aaron is our first freshman this year and even in a while who won the defensive player of the game award," Williams said of Miles, who won the honor once this season. "Very seldom does a freshman do that, and he also was second at North Dakota. His assist-to-error ratio (62/46) needs to be a little better. But Jeff Boschee's freshman year and Kirk's freshman year it wasn't as good as we wanted it to be and they improved."

Boschee had 121-to-110 ratio his rookie season, while Hinrich's was 123-to-87. Currently, Hinrich has 69 assists to 38 bobbles and Boschee has 32 to 11.

"I think Aaron is getting better and more relaxed about knocking in his shots," Williams said. "Keith has done some good things. We still have to get Keith to concentrate more on the defensive end and get some rebounds. Wayne would be the incomplete. I don't think he's 100 percent since the knee injury. We'll have to wait on that. Michael is doing better things. I truly believe he'll be a good player for us."

KU's next foe, Valparaiso, is off to a 10-4 start. Coach Homer Drew's Crusaders, who have seven foreign players on their 14-man roster, have had notable victories over UNC Charlotte (70-63), Rhode Island (68-43), West Virginia (76-57) and Indiana State (71-54), plus narrow losses to Purdue (73-69) and most recently, Arizona, 74-70, in Sunday's finals of the Fiesta Bowl Classic in Tucson, Ariz.

Tipoff for KU-Valpo is 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

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