Bill Self credited his team in Sunday night's 87-61 win over Towson as having taken baby steps in recovery from last Wednesday's home loss to Oral Roberts.
Some more of those certainly wouldn't hurt as KU plays its second game of the Las Vegas Invitational tonight against Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse.
This weekend in Vegas, the Jayhawks take on Ball State Friday night, and then top-ranked defending national champion Florida in the Invitational finale Saturday night. The Florida game has been on fans' minds since the schedule was released, but the Jayhawks have repeatedly insisted it's not something they're overlooking opponents in anticipation of.
The Jayhawks enter the game having shown some balance in the season's early going. Four KU players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by freshman forward Darrell Arthur. His 20 point per game average was fueled largely by his 26-point outing Sunday against Towson.
The Tigers come to town with an early record of 0-1, and are led offensively by forward Clarence Matthews (18 points in their opener) and guard Ladarious Weaver, a Butler County Community College product who opened the season with 15 points in TSU's opening night loss to Western Kentucky.
It took KU all of six seconds to get the Allen Fieldhouse crowd electrified. Off of the opening tip, Mario Chalmers smoothly found Darrell Arthur for an alley-oop, finished without hesitation.
Tennessee State didn't go away, though. The Tigers' Clarence Matthews scored on their first possession, and they took the lead with a Reiley Ervin free throw on their next trip down.
Arthur scored KU's next field goal off of a tipped rebound from Brandon Rush, strategically placed in Arthur's waiting hands. Julian Wright kept up the down-low dominance for KU on the next possession with a two-handed follow slam after a Brandon Rush missed three-pointer.
Mario Chalmers, who was a defensive force Sunday night, continued the trend with a pick at midcourt to keep Tennessee State's offense silent. The result was a trip to the free throw line in which he made both attempts to put KU up 8-3.
Wright hit a pair of free throws of his own following Matthews' second field goal of the game to keep KU's lead at five, but Ladarious Weaver hit a jumper after shaking Russell Robinson to make it a 10-7 game heading into the first television timeout at the 15:46 mark.
Ervin got a clean look at a three after a KU turnover out of the break, and with his true aim tied the score at 10-10.
KU took the lead back on a Brandon Rush free throw which followed a failed fastbreak layup attempt. Julian Wright expanded it, first by swatting Courtney Bohannon under the KU hoop, then hitting a short deuce on the offensive end.
His fellow Chicago native, Sherron Collins, made his presence felt when KU got the ball back again by hitting a three from the left wing to make it a 6-0 Kansas run.
With KU leading 17-12, Tennessee State put KU in the bonus at the 12:12 mark. Russell Robinson missed his first attempt at the stripe, but the bonus gives KU an advantage on the offensive end for the rest of the half, as the two teams head into a timeout at 11:53.
KU was able to send TSU big man Larry Turner - who transferred from Oklahoma following the 2004-05 season - to the bench with his third foul right out of the timeout, and Brandon Rush built some more momentum by hitting a three-pointer in the right corner.
Sherron Collins hit one from the polar opposite side of the court on the next possession.
Bringing the crowd to even more of a roar was Sasha Kaun's emergence from the bench to the scorer's table. Kaun, who has missed the entire season so far with a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee, was not yet extended back. The lively crowd was able to go nuts again as Collins hit another trey to put KU up 26-14.
Chalmers continued to thrill with his defensive quicks by picking off another pass at the timeline, and coasted in for another layin to put KU up by 14 points.
The roof blew off when on Kaun's first offensive touch, he took the ball down low, moved to the center of the paint and hit an and-one baby hook. He also calmly sunk the free throw to put KU up 16.
Then KU finally forced TSU to call for a break when Chalmers took a fastbreak outlet pass, faked Bohannon out of his shoes in dishing a pass to Collins who finished it for his 10th and 11th points of the night, putting KU up 33-15 wtih 7:41 to go.
Collins answered a Matthews jumper at the top of the key with another open court layin to give him a game-high 13 points. Kaun then hit a pair of free throws in the double bonus before heading to the bench for a breather.
Though on the next defensive shot for KU, Darrell Arthur was whislted for his third foul of the game while helping Russell Robinson off of a screen.
Wright took a hard flop to the floor on the next KU trip after a foul on a busted dunk, but he shrugged it off to hit a pair of free throws and put KU up 39-18. He then moved into double figures after taking a sweet open-court pass off of the backboard from Chalmers, giving KU a 41-18 advantage heading into the final television timeout of the half and 3:55 on the clock.
KU didn't let the defensive intensity go away, as Julian Wright kept the crowd in the game with a thunderous block on the defensive end after Brandon Rush was shucked away on a screen.
Darnell Jackson broke a field goal drought for KU with less than a minute to go in the half with an easy layin off of a dish from Julian Wright. Rush closed out the half with a three in transition after some nifty Wright ballhandling. The trey put KU up 50-19 at the half. Sherron Collins leads the way for KU with 14, while Julian Wright has 10 and Rush has chipped in nine.
The Wright-to-Jackson connection which ended the first half started off the second half, as Julian Wright assisted the first of Darnell Jackson's two hoops to open the second act. Wright then got back in the scoring column on his own to keep KU's lead over the 30-point barrier at 56-22.
KU showed that it wanted to keep things that way. A Ladarious Weaver three-pointer was promptly answered wtih one from Rush. Rush has also padded his rebound totals on the night, with three early boards in the second half giving him eight to go with his 12 points.
Darrell Arthur took advantage of a slightly lax TSU defense, grabbing a pair of offensive boards, and then on KU's next turn with the ball threw down an alley-oop pass from Collins which looked to be headed deep in orbit. It put KU up 63-30.
After Rush hit a pair of free throws to answer a TSU pair, Bill Self went with a smaller lineup, putting Collins, Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers on the floor simultaneously with Wright and Sasha Kaun.
Though it was the big men who kept the offense running. Kaun scored his sixth and seventh points of the night on a no-look feed in the lane from Wright. It made the score 67-34 with 11:33 to go.
KU then got into somewhat of a running game, fueled by efficient, quick passes. First, Julian Wright bumped his point total to 14 with a fastbreak flush coming down the lane. Then, Collins scored his first points of the half on a fastbreak layin courtesy of Russell Robinson.
After a Chalmers layin knifing down from the wing, Collins hit his fourth three-pointer of the game to put the lead at 40 points, and it was pushed past that on a steal-and-two from Robinson, making the score 78-36.
TSU scored five quick points during a KU slopfest to make it 78-41 with 6:52 to play.
Arthur broke a KU scoring drought with a pair of free throws, as he and Collins were the last of KU's regulars left in the game with less than five minutes to play. The two points put Arthur in double figures for the third time in three regular season games as a Jayhawk.
Rodrick Stewart gave the crowd a late reason to rise by hitting a three on a possession in which the ball switched hands so much that the Jayhawks actually passed up open shots a few times.
It was all semantics, including a Jeremy Case three, as KU finished off an 89-54 win.
Sherron Collins led the way for the Jayhawks with 19 points, including hitting 4-of-6 three point attempts. Brandon Rush and Julian Wright each chipped in 14 points for the Jayhawks, while Darnell Jackson tallied 11 and Darrell Arthur added 10. Clarence Matthews, who fouled out in the final minutes, led TSU with 18 points. The 3-1 Jayhawks now head to Las Vegas to take on Ball State Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 1 Florida Saturday at 10 p.m.