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Sunday, February 5, 2006

Keegan

Keegan: KU fate decided in paint

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Kansas University's most productive, most consistent, most entertaining three players start on the perimeter.

KU's five most important players in today's high-noon duel with Oklahoma do their work underneath. How well they do it will go a long way toward determining which hot, talented Big 12 Conference team extends its winning streak.

KU coach Bill Self would love to have a big man so skilled, tough and experienced he can't stand taking him out of the game. He doesn't have that. He does have the next best thing, which is the depth to handle one of them getting into foul trouble without hurting the team appreciably.

Self will start Julian Wright and Sasha Kaun, a combination he said he liked to play together because Kaun was the best at sealing his man and Wright was the best at feeding the post. Call me crazy, but it seems Kaun catches a much higher percentage of Wright's passes than he does anybody else's.

With big bodies Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout, both seniors who were recruited by KU, leading the way underneath for the Sooners, Wright's slight frame could be exploited. That doesn't necessarily mean Wright's minutes will be reduced.

"They're going to have to guard Julian, too," Self said.

Meaning Wright's quickness could enable him to exploit his man.

In Big 12 play, the least effective of the three post players off the bench has been C.J. Giles, who is averaging 3.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and has just three blocked shots in 75 minutes in seven conference games.

There could be no better time for Giles to pull a Lazarus than this afternoon, when his length, quick feet and explosive jumping ability could give Gray more trouble than he usually faces.

In conference play, Darnell Jackson easily has been KU's best big man, averaging 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds. He's hitting 55 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. Not only that, he's KU's widest body.

Christian Moody, who could lose minutes today as Self goes with more physical combinations, has one trait he shares with KU's other four post players: He runs the floor extremely well.

All five big men do a great job of getting back on defense, which enables the guards to defend the perimeter in transition. They also are adept at being there to either finish breaks with slams or tip in misses. Against Oklahoma, which does such a good job of getting back on defense, easy buckets will be harder to find.

Gray, who spent his first two years at Redlands Community College, leads the Sooners in scoring (15.1), rebounding (7.8), blocks (1.4) and shooting percentage (.608).

"I'm sure he'll be motivated," Self said of the Wichita native. "I got to the job late, but we tried to recruit him. I think he's a terrific player. We really liked him as a person as well. He's had a good two years in Norman, and I'm sure he'll be excited to be playing back in his home state. I'm sure this will have extra meaning for him."

KU's depth will enable Self to keep a fresh body on Gray at all times, which can't be a bad thing.

Hold on a second, I'm having a premonition. OK, I'm done. Final score: Kansas 73, Oklahoma 67. Storyline: Chester Jerell Giles back from the dead.

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