Thursday, February 9, 2006

Carefree KU cruises

Pillow fights key to success


— Brandon Rush broke into a devilish grin Wednesday night when asked the reason for Kansas University's runaway success on the road.

"We have fun in our hotel rooms. We go from room to room messing with each other at 12 or 1 in the morning," Rush said of the Jayhawk men's basketball players' carefree behavior the night before games - like Tuesday, the evening before KU's 69-48 rout of Nebraska at Devaney Center.

"Last night I ran from room to room getting in pillow fights with the guys," Rush added after the Jayhawks' defense suffocated NU to the tune of 34.6 percent shooting.

Pillow fights?

"Yeah, pillow fights," Rush repeated coyly as he walked toward the bus wearing his winter coat and oversized black baseball cap.

Kansas (16-6 overall, 7-2 Big 12 Conference) improved to 4-1 on the road in the Big 12 despite the fact Rush scored just six points in 30 minutes. It was the first time KU's leading scorer failed to reach double figures in 10 games, the Jayhawks going 8-2 in that span.

"It means a lot," Rush said of KU winning on a night he missed eight of 11 shots and had four turnovers. "They don't have to rely on me to score to get a big-time win on the road over a big-time team."

Mario Chalmers scored 20 points and Jeff Hawkins 11; no other Jayhawks hit double figures.

"It's a fun and focused group when they get away from home, for whatever reason," KU coach Bill Self said of his close-knit Jayhawks. "They don't get excited. They don't get rattled. I guess they like hanging out all day together."

It's safe to say the Cornhuskers (15-7, 5-4), who had a three-game win streak snapped Wednesday, don't particularly enjoy being in the same building as the Jayhawks.

KU beat the Huskers by 42 points Jan. 21 in Lawrence and by 21 points Wednesday.

Rush scored 17 points and had nine rebounds in that rout at Allen Fieldhouse.

"I'd have never dreamt it'd be like that if Brandon was not a factor offensively in the game," Self said.

"It shows we have a lot more weapons than just Brandon," said Chalmers, who hit seven of 17 shots, including four of 11 threes. "Tonight he didn't have a good game. But he'll be back next game."

Chalmers hit three of the biggest shots Wednesday. A deep three boosted a 34-28 lead to nine points 3 1/2 minutes into the second half. Another three and floater in the lane stretched a 37-32 lead to 10 points with 14:27 to play. And a three with 9:38 left answered a Husker bucket and gave KU a 52-39 advantage.

"Mario had the big answers for us tonight," Self said. "He had a couple of big three-pointers late in the shot clock."

KU received an offensive spark from sophomore center C.J. Giles the first half. Giles scored eight points with four rebounds in 10 minutes.

He played just three minutes the second half, not scoring or grabbing a rebound as Self limited his minutes for uninspired second-half play.

"C.J. was terrific the first half. He'll be the first to tell you he didn't play close to the same energy the second half," Self said of the big man who helped KU to a 32-24 lead at intermission. "The second half, we played primarily six guys, ones that gave us the best chance of guarding Maric (Aleks, 16 points, 7-of-16 shooting) inside. Sasha (Kaun, seven boards, six points, 26 minutes) was our best option down low."

Giles played with his right thumb taped - he sprained it in practice this week - and said he didn't deserve to play much the second half.

"I'm disappointed in myself," he said. "I know I was playing bad. I let them throw it in. I wasn't guarding him (Maric). I wasn't posting up strong."

KU won going away in an enemy gym on a night the team hit 41.9 percent of its shots and seven of 19 threes. Chalmers made four of 11 treys and Hawkins three of six. NU was led by Maric and Jason Dourisseau, who had 16 and 14 respectively

"The whole team bought into what coach Self wanted us to do," Hawkins said of intense man-to-man defense. "We want to get them out of what they are used to doing, make it tough to run their offense."

KU next will meet Iowa State at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.


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