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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keegan

Keegan: Jayhawks conceited? Not yet

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The Julian Wright highlight reel expanded yet again with a lot of this and a lot more of that during Kansas University's 79-46 bludgeoning over what is left of Missouri's basketball program Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse.

Let's see, he threw one in over his shoulder. He slapped an opponent's shot off the backboard. He busted a wicked cross-over dribble and went in, off the wrong foot, for a layup. And then there was the time Wright appeared to have an elastic arm, seemingly extending it way down the baseline to haul in a rebound as he was way up there off his feet near the hoop.

And his best work of the day came after the game, in John Hadl Auditorium, where the players do their interviews. Wright was asked to name his favorite play of the day.

"I look at turnovers more after the game, think about mistakes, rather than the good stuff," Wright said. "Most of the team does that. We don't look at too many of the good things because we expect to do good things and try to focus on the mistakes and try to get rid of those mistakes."

Therein lies the beauty of the Jayhawks. They don't allow themselves to grow enamored of their own reflections. Confident? Supremely. Conceited? Not yet.

"I think in sports, confidence is close to everything, and we're a confident team," KU coach Bill Self said after the rout. "I don't want to say too confident, because I don't sense that at all, because they practice every day, and we have ways to knock them back down if they start acting like that. I think that this is a confident group that expects to do well every time they lace them up."

Lately, those expectations have been met, with nine consecutive victories and 16 out of 18. This one came against a team bad enough to miss 17 shots in a row after making its first shot of the second half, a team so sloppy it committed 15 first-half turnovers, a team that plays as if it's looking forward to the NCAA Tournament nearly as much as those who will participate.

Still, Missouri couldn't have looked so horrendous without help from a KU defense that leads the nation in field-goal percentage, a defense whose guards have gotten so much better at knowing when to gamble and whose post defenders have developed a nastier presence.

"This is the best defensive team we've had since we've been here," Self said.

The pressure applied by guards Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, according to Wright, "takes their confidence away." That pressure not only creates turnovers, it makes it difficult for guards to feed the post. Once the ball does get inside, the fear of a blocked shot (Sasha Kaun had four Saturday, Wright and C.J. Giles two apiece) and help that is quick in arriving make it tough to score.

The way the big men run the floor prevents teams from getting easy shots and open three-point shots in transition.

Their coach presents them with a challenge, such as shutting down guard Thomas Gardner and center Kevin Young, who combined for 54 points against the Jayhawks in Columbia, and they meet it. They combined for 17 this time.

It's easy to take pride in scoring points. This team is just as proud of preventing points and does so in a way that makes scoring them all the easier.

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