Before shifting any sort of focus to top-ranked Florida, KU must take care of business tonight in Las Vegas against heavily-underdogged Ball State.
KU meets Ball State in its third of four games in the Las Vegas Invitational, and it will be the first meeting between the two schools since the 2001 Maui Invitational, when cramping and sluggish play led to a 93-91 upset win for the Muncie, Ind., school.
The Jayhawks have won two straight since suffering an early upset at the hands of Oral Roberts in Allen Fieldhouse. The most recent of KU's victims was Tennessee State Tuesday night in Lawrence. Aside from five Jayhawks scoring in double figures, KU was inspired by the return of junior Sasha Kaun in quick fashion from a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
The marquee matchup of the Invitationl, obviously, comes tomorrow night at 10 p.m. when KU takes on top-ranked Florida - the defending national champion.
TIp-off is set tonight for 7 p.m. at Orleans arena between the 3-1 Jayhawks and the 2-1 Cardinals.
On the opening tip, Ball State followed two missed KU opportunities to score from close by tipping a loose ball into its own goal, with the basket credited to Darrell Arthur.
But Ball State answered quickly, with Peyton Stovall casualy answering with a three from the right wing. Anthony Newell cotninued the quick start for the Cardinals, following an Arthur turnover with a baseline jumper.
After another early KU giveaway, Stovall went up hard against Arthur to earn a trip to the line. He hit one of two to give the Cardinals an early 6-2 lead.
Both teams went cold from the field for a series of trips before Russell Robinson finally scored himself a hard-earned trip to the free throw line, sinking both to slice the BSU lead in half.
Ball State's two-three zone continued to stymie the Jayhawk offense, as KU turned the ball over once again before heading into a timeout with just under 16 minutes to go, trailing 6-4.
KU tied the game right out of the timeout on a Julian Wright tip-in, following a Brandon Rush missed three from deep. After another ugly Ball State possession, Mario Chalmers hit the Jayhawks' first three of the game after the team missed its first four attempts.
Ball State's offense was certainly not blowing anyone away, but the Cardinals continued to hang around, and Newell tied the game once again with a turnaround which snuck around the rim from close range, making it 10-10.
But a Ball State foul with still more than 12 minutes to go in the half put the Jayhawks already in the bonus. Russell Robinson hit both attmepts on the team's first bonus trip to put KU back up by two, and Sasha Kaun also made his first appearance during the stoppage of play.
Arthur sent KU into the second television timeout still only up just two, but on the heels of a huge block of Ball State's D'Andre Payton. KU leads 12-10 with 11:48 to go in the half.
Out of the timeout, KU made its first major offensive highlight of the game on an alley-oop from Chalmers to Kaun after a Ball State turnover. On the other end, Arthur kept the momentum building with a swat in the corner, followed by maintaining possession before the ball went out of bounds.
But the run ended before it started. Jalon Perryman scored on an uncontested look underneath, and Kansas' offensive woes came back, as the Jayhawks squandered another early opportunity to pull away.
Another miss by Kaun led to KU whistling for a quick timeout, still looking to break out of a 4-22 slump to start the game from the field.
Sherron Collins was finally able to get his team back on the board by following his own miss on KU's second possession out of the timeout.
Ball State wasn't fairing much better offensively, but was taking advantage of better looks. Peyton's 18-foot jumper from the right baseline kept Ball State within two at 16-14 in a game where momentum had played to role so far. Peyton kept it going for the Cardinals wtih an inside hook to tie the game, 16-16, with 5:39 to go in the half.
Brandon Rush scored his first point of the game on the front end of a one-and-one to put KU up 17-16, but it couldn't cover up the Jayhawks' disgusting 5-of-27 start from the field.
Chalmers then hit a three-pointer to end a KU field goal drought which it seemed would never end, giving KU a tad bit of breathing room at 20-16.
Chalmers continued to have the Jayhawks' lone hot hand with his third trey out of the final television timeout before halftime to open up a seven-point lead and give the Jayhawks some more defensive confidence, forcing a turnover on the ensuing possession.
Foul trouble stung KU a bit before halftime, as Ball State benefitted from the bonus. Steve Horton hit a pair of free throws, and Peyton hit one of two to pull the Cardinals within four points.
Julian Wright scored on his second field goal of the night with a 10-foot jumper on the left baseline, and Ball State responded with another turnover, leaving KU with the final possession of the half.
Sherron Collins closed the half by knifing home a three-pointer off of a nifty pass from Julian Wright in the lane. It ended an ugly half with KU up 28-9 despite shooting just 27.3 percent from the field on a 9-of-33 showing. Chalmers has nine for the Jayhawks, Collins has five while Wright and Robinson each head to the locker room wtih four.
Newell opened up the second half with an inside deuce for Ball State, but KU responded. After Chalmers missed from three-point range for the second time on the night, he assisted a Brandon Rush trey, which was the sophomore's first field goal of the game.
KU followed another Ball State turnover with what seemed like its first easy two points of the night, this time on a Chalmers no-look feed to Arthur underneath after faking a short jumper in the lane.
KU leads 33-21 heading into the first full break of the second half.
Horton followed a Perryman free throw with an inside two, and then a Newell three-pointer made it a quick 6-0 Ball State run to pull the Cardinals back within range at 33-27.
After Bill Self whistled a timeout, though, at the 14:00 mark, the three-ball continued to bail out the Jayhawks. This time it was Russell Robinson drilling one deep from a straight away angle.
The turnovers continued to ugly up the game, as KU leads 36-27 with 11:58 to play in the game. KU might be able to attack the rack now with Ball State big man Micah Rollin on the bench with his fourth foul.
Julian Wright scored inside out of the timeout, and Sherron Collins continued to open things up off of a steal by pulling a nifty spin move in the open court to earn himself an easy two points underneath, putting KU up 40-27 with 11:20 to play in the game.
Robinson hit a pair of free throws to make it a 9-0 KU run, but Ball State's Julien Mills was able to snap the Cardinal drought with a tough two on the baseline. Mills scored again off of a Ball State missed three which came after a Darnell Jackson charge on the other end.
KU then opened it up one more time, following a Brandon Rush three with a little bit of showtime from Mario Chalmers in the form of a two-handed slam off of a steal, putting KU up 47-31 with 7:56 to play.
The basket-swapping continued, highlighted by a twisting layin from Brandon Rush for his second field goal of the night, and then a lob dunk by Darnell Jackson off a deep feed from Brandon Rush.
Rush hit a pair of free throws to get him in double figures with 11 points. Ball State's ongoing turnover problem kept them from getting back into the game with a serious threat, as KU leads 56-39 with 3:32 to play and the game all but in hand.
Darrell Arthur continued to add some salt into a now very-open wound. After an easy layin, he pulled a nice shake-and-bake move for a one-handed slam underneath. Russell Robinson followed that by hitting one of two free throws to move himself into double figures with 10 points, making him the third Jayhawk to do so on the night.
Julian Wright hit three points down the stretch as KU finished off a 64-46 win over Ball State to move to 4-1 on the young season, and now can solely focus on the Florida contest tomorrow night at 10 p.m.
KU followed a pitiful first half shooting performance by going 13-of-22 in the second half from the floor. A sore spot offensively for KU was 13-of-21 shooting from the free throw line. Six Jayhawks scored at least seven points, ledy by 13 from Mario Chalmers, 11 from Brandon Rush and 10 from Russell Robinson.