Thursday, March 28, 2002


Collison could make difference in Final Four


Drew Gooden is as consistent as a new watch, producing double digits in points and rebounds night in and night out. Gooden could fall out of bed and notch a double-double.

Kirk Hinrich is a like a perpetual motion machine, buzzing all over the floor like a worker bee on Red Bull. Hinrich personifies the Jayhawks' perception of relentlessness.

The 6-foot-10 Gooden and the 6-3 Hinrich have been Kansas University's most honored and recognized players on the highway to the NCAA Final Four, but

The key to Kansas capturing the national championship is 6-9 junior Nick Collison.

Coach Roy Williams can count on Gooden and Williams can usually count on Hinrich, yet Williams can never be quite sure about Collison because the Iowa Falls, Iowa, product is foul-prone.

Typical was the Jayhawks' 73-59 Sweet 16 victory over Illinois in Madison, Wis. Limited by fouls, Collison produced 11 points and nine rebounds. But in the 104-86 victory over Oregon, Collison avoided whistle woes and drilled the Ducks with 25 points and 15 rebounds.

Collison's inconsistency was evident at the first NCAA stop, too. At the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Collison had more turnovers (6) than points (5) as the Jayhawks struggled to dispose of No. 16 seed Holy Cross, 70-59.

But in the second round, spurred by Bill Mayer's commentary in the Journal-World that warned the Jayhawks wouldn't go very far if Collison took "disappearing potion" again, he posted a 17-point, 13-board outing in an 86-63 triumph over Stanford.

Notably, Collison had only six points and one board in the UCLA game one of only three KU defeats. However, in KU's other two losses to Ball State and Oklahoma Collison contributed, averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds a game.

Collison leads the Jayhawks in fouls with 105. He has fouled out six times. No teammate has fouled out more than twice.

"I try not to foul," Collison said. "I know a big part of my game is to stay out of foul trouble."

In order to defeat Maryland in Saturday's semifinal, the Jayhawks will need Collison to stay out of foul trouble, but that may be difficult with the Terps boasting the 1-2 inside punch of muscular Lonny Baxter, a 6-foot-8, 260-pounder, and smooth 6-10 sophomore Chris Wilcox.

In all likelihood, Wilcox will draw Gooden and Baxter will be matched against Collison under the basket.

"Baxter and Wilcox are a lot like us," Collison said. "They're big and strong and run the floor. But we don't have the body size they do. And Wilcox is probably the most athletic big man in basketball. They're the toughest match-up we've had so far."

Although Kansas has one of the best back-up big men in the country in 6-9 Wayne Simien, Collison is more experienced than the 245-pound freshman and has more speed so it will be imperative for Collison to log between 25 and 30 minutes of court time. He averages 26.6 minutes a game.

KU will also need its lone freshman starter, point guard Aaron Miles, to ignore the Final Four hoopla and man the rudder with the same precocious skill he's shown all season. Same goes for freshman Keith Langford, the Jayhawks' instant offense off the bench. Langford can't get caught up in the glitz.

At the same time, senior guard Jeff Boschee needs to hit enough three-point goals to take the pressure off Gooden and Collison inside. Boschee has difficulty finding open looks against taller, quicker opponents like Maryland, Indiana and Oklahoma, for instance so his teammates will have to concentrate on setting screens for him.

Boschee scored only three points in KU's 64-55 loss to Oklahoma in the championship game of the Big 12 Conference tournament despite playing 32 minutes.

When all cylinders are firing, Kansas is virtually unstoppable. And the Jayhawks will need every single piston in Atlanta.

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