Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ranked and rollin’


Bill Self spoke to his bruised and battered mentor, Eddie Sutton, on the phone Monday morning.

"His quote was, he looks like he fought Ali and lost. He said he was marked up pretty good," Self, Kansas University's basketball coach, said after the Jayhawks' 64-49 victory over the Sutton-less Oklahoma State Cowboys on Monday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Sutton, OSU's 16th-year coach, was home nursing facial bruises he suffered in a car wreck Friday, giving way to his son, Sean, who will coach the team the rest of the season. Eddie on Monday announced he would take a leave of absence the rest of the 2005-06 campaign.

"It's great to come back here and see friends. A lot of people here helped raised me," said Self, a graduate of Oklahoma State who sat next to Sutton on OSU's bench for three seasons. "I'm appreciative of everybody, but it (the game) wasn't very enjoyable, to be honest, because I wanted to compete against coach. I wanted to play against his team and show my mentor what we do.

"It's something I'm proud of. I certainly hope he gets feeling better fast. I know he needs to get healthy. He's struggled a long time with his health. It's a tough enough job when you feel great, let alone when you don't feel well."

KU's coach would have loved for his mentor to see his newly ranked Jayhawks (18-6 overall, 9-2 in Big 12 Conference and No. 22 in both polls) win their eighth straight game, courtesy of a gritty 25-7, game-ending surge.

KU trailed the slumping Cowboys (13-12, 3-8), 42-39, with 10:10 to play when OSU's Mario Boggan stole the ball from Brandon Rush, scored and hit a free throw after getting hacked by Rush.

The Jayhawks answered that conventional three-point play with a 16-2 surge to grab an insurmountable 55-44 lead at 3:51.

Sasha Kaun's free throw and a three-pointer by Russell Robinson opened the surge. Robinson's three -- his first in five games and one that snapped an 0-for-9 skid from beyond the arc -- gave the Jayhawks a 43-42 lead, which the team would not surrender.

"It was the biggest shot of the game, obviously," Self said. "We shouldn't look at Russell's percentages. We should look at when he makes shots. He also did a great job defensively, helping hold JamesOn down."

OSU's JamesOn Curry scored 15 points off 5-of-13 shooting.

"I didn't know it was our only three (in seven tries). I think it was real big. It got us over the hump," Robinson said. "We had been fighting and fighting, and it got us the lead."

Kaun, who played well down the stretch after picking up his fourth foul with 9:09 to play, scored five points in the 16-2 spurt, including two off a nifty left-handed bank shot, which he followed with a slam dunk off a feed from Julian Wright (12 points, three assists, eight boards).

"I don't shoot left-handed a lot. Sometimes it's something that needs to be done," Kaun said. "It's something that just happened during the game.

"It was a great game. We came back and had a nice little run to win the game."

KU suffered 15 turnovers in an ugly first half. The teams were tied at 23 at the break.

KU finished with 20 turnovers to OSU's 24. The Jayhawks, led by Robinson's five steals, had 16 thefts to Okie State's 10.

"Neither team got in much of a rhythm," Self said.

KU hit 40 percent of its shots, OSU 37.5 percent. The Cowboys missed 12 of 13 threes, while the Jayhawks bricked six of seven.

"The defenses were good, and I thought OSU physically controlled us the first half. It was ugly ball there awhile," Self said. "This team needs to learn to win that way. In the second half, the last 10 minutes I thought we played well."

The crowd was loud, as usual, in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"I thought the crowd helped them, but I don't think they rattled us as much as Oklahoma State's athleticism," Self said. "That's an athletic team. They pressured us out of what we wanted to do, and we played out of foul problems."

KU hit 19 of 28 free throws to OSU's 12 of 19.

"The crowd was loud," Robinson said. "There were some empty seats out there, but it was loud. I thought we played with poise late in the game."

KU next will meet Missouri at 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

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