Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Stingy KU defense in elite company


If defense truly wins championships, Kansas University's men's basketball team is in good shape in the Big 12 regular-season race, the postseason tournament and, yes, even the NCAAs.

The ballhawking Jayhawks have compiled some eye-opening numbers on defense entering the homestretch of the league season.

Bill Self's third KU team ...

l Leads the country in field-goal-percentage defense (.362). It marks KU's best defensive effort in almost 50 years, ranking third in school history behind the .345 mark in 1957-58 and .351 mark in 1956-57.

l Has allowed 60.8 points per game, its best effort since 1968-69, when KU allowed 60.2 ppg. The school record is 55.3 ppg in 1957-58.

l Has plucked an impressive 228 steals, or 9.5 steals per game, which ranks 21st in the country.

The Jayhawks still are well off the school record of 373 steals in 2002-03. Mario Chalmers has a Big 12-leading 64 steals, just 28 behind school-record-holder Darnell Valentine, who had 92 in 1981. Chal-mers has 36 steals in conference play. The school record is 45 by Aaron Miles in 2003 and Valentine in '78.

In league play, KU ranks first in field-goal-percentage defense (.381), third in three-point field-goal percentage (.332), second in blocks (4.45), second in steals (10.3 per game), third in scoring defense (64.1) and first in rebounding (41.4).

"I'd say statistically we're better than we thought we'd be," Self said of the defensive excellence. "We are understanding the value of what it takes to guard. We get a lot of deflections and steals that lead to offense."

As far as the team recording some of the best marks in KU annals, it's a far cry from earlier in the season when the Jayhawks appeared to be en route to setting futility marks.

"Though I hated it and it was a miserable three weeks (when KU was 3-4) when all the talk was it was the worst record to start the season since 1971, now it's a positive because the guys bonded together, got tough and started enjoying each other," Self said. "Becoming a team doesn't just happen overnight. It's a process that takes place."

KU will take a sparkling 18-6 record and 9-2 league mark into Saturday's 2:45 p.m. home battle against Missouri.

"It's really been a good month," Self said Tuesday on his Hawk Talk radio show. "Since the Missouri game (Jan. 16), we've played great (8-0 record). I like the way we're running, stealing easy baskets. Our guys right now are playing with a free mind. They are in attack mode all the time. Still we need to work on things, tighten things up and continue to work hard at practice and take that into the games."

¢ Hawkins needs rest: KU senior guard Jeff Hawkins, who has joked with reporters about having an "old body," has been aching of late. He struggled in Monday's win at Oklahoma State.

'"Hawk' is nicked up with his groin, his back, his knee and everything," Self said. "This little time off will come as a welcome time for us. We need 'Hawk.' He's important to us. Last night he couldn't move his groin was bothering him so much."

¢ Slip, sliding away: You weren't imagining things if you noticed players slipping and sliding all over the Gallagher-Iba Arena court Monday.

The floor was slick.

"It's a great floor. It seemed like it needed another coat of varnish," Self said. "Jeremy (Case) made a layup off a good move in the second half. The Oklahoma State player slipped. We were giving Jeremy a hard time about it," Self added, laughing.

"When teams are pressuring you and you can't cut it certainly affected both teams."

¢ Gillispie to MU?: has indicated Texas A&M;'s Billy Gillispie is interested in the Missouri job. Self, who is a close friend of Gillispie, was asked about that possibility on his radio show.

"I think Billy has a pretty good deal going right now in College Station. I can't speak for Billy but that has not been mentioned in our talks and we talk about twice a day," Self said.

¢ Quin beat out Self: Hard to imagine now, but Self was a finalist for the Missouri job seven years ago when Snyder was picked to replace Norm Stewart at Missouri.

"It came down to Quin and myself and they went in a different direction," Self said. "If they hadn't gone that way I wouldn't have had a chance to coach three Elite Eight teams and be around the people I am and ultimately land here. I don't think you'd have a chance to go from there to here ever.

"It couldn't have worked out better for me," Self added. "What's that Garth Brooks song? Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers? Certainly it worked out great."


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