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Thursday, February 9, 2006

Keegan

Keegan: Mario silences Huskers

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— Knowing when to answer back and when to keep quiet is an important part of growing up for any teenager.

By that standard, Mario Chalmers, Kansas University's freshman guard from Anchorage, Alaska, proved Wednesday night at the Devaney Center he is growing up quite nicely.

Chalmers knew when not to answer back: during warmups, when being ridden about his father, Ronnie, being a member of Bill Self's coaching staff.

He knew when to answer back: nearly every time the Cornhuskers cut into KU's second-half lead during a 69-48 blowout victory for the Jayhawks.

Chalmers scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in a second half in which he buried four three-pointers, a pair of free throws and one of his trademark floaters. Those numbers don't reflect the silencing effect he had on the crowd.

When KU had difficulty containing Aleks Maric inside, Chalmers repeatedly answered his two points with three.

Maric's dunk for the Cornhuskers trimmed KU's lead to six points and stirred the crowd into action with 16:46 left in the second half. Seven seconds later, Chalmers drained a three-pointer to muzzle the mostly red audience of 13,055.

Maric's jumper with 14:39 left juiced the volume again. Twelve seconds later, Chalmers quieted them with another three-pointer and followed that with a floater that put the Jayhawks up 10.

Chalmers has an uncanny knack on that shot to know just how much air he must put under it to avoid the defender's reach. It's a shot he said he has had in his big bag of tricks since he was in eighth grade and one he used to score the winning bucket in the one-point victory over Oklahoma.

Not even two minutes after the floater, Chalmers produced one of his four steals and knew where he was going with the ball, thanks to a nonverbal hint from Brandon Rush, to whom he lobbed the ball for a dunk.

On a night Rush was off his game, Chalmers, Russell Robinson (four steals) and Jeff Hawkins did a terrific job driving the Nebraska ballhandlers batty with their ultra-quick hands. On a night Chalmers overtook Iowa State's Curtis Stinson as the Big 12 leader in steals, 13 of Nebraska's 19 turnovers came on KU steals.

The improvement in Chalmers' defense when he doesn't gamble is what has pleased the coaching staff most. Chalmers credits shooting sessions with assistant coach Joe Dooley for his shooting improvement.

In the past seven games, Chalmers has made 52 percent of his three-pointers. Freshmen tend to shoot much better at home. Not Chalmers. In five Big 12 road games, he has made 61 percent of his three-pointers.

He's not alone. KU is 4-1 in road conference games.

"I think we kind of feed off the negativity of the (other school's) home crowd," Chalmers said. "It kind of helps us get a spark."

There was no shortage of negativity sent his way.

"They were on me about my dad being on the coaching staff and me being from Alaska, and they said some other things I don't remember," Chalmers said. "I blocked it out."

He didn't answer them until shutting them up and sitting them down in the second half.

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