Saturday, November 25, 2006

Keegan: Stakes go up tonight


— In the final minute of a blowout, the volume and stress in the voices of so many of the 5,000 or so Kansas University backers Friday night in Orleans Arena sounded more like the emotions attached to a game that hinged on the final shots.

For those banking on winning twice - both on the scoreboard and in the wallet - the game did go down to the final minute.

KU defeated Ball State, 64-46, which wasn't quite enough for a clean sweep for those who legally put their money where their hearts are at one of the many sports books in town.

"Come on," one frustrated fan seated courtside hollered. "I've got 20 bucks on the game."

Only in Vegas.

Regardless of what anyone had at stake, the evening served mostly as a way to pass the time on the way to the real reason for making the trip.

Tonight, the focus shifts from gaming to the game for which we've all been waiting: Kansas vs. defending national champion Florida, a pair of fashionable preseason No. 1 picks who return all their starters from a year ago.

In trashing Western Kentucky, 101-68, in the nightcap, Florida looked sharper than KU. Coach Bill Self was so unimpressed by what he saw, he called his team's offensive performance "pitiful."

He noted that the ball is sticking in too many hands for too long. Conversely, Florida moved the ball crisply in closing out the first half with a 30-11 run.

As illustrated by Gonzaga defeating North Carolina one day and losing to Butler the next, a lot can change in a short amount of time.

It will need to in order for the Jayhawks to defeat a confident, aggressive Gators team led by Joakim Noah, who should be mentioned in any discussion of the nation's best and most obnoxious basketball players. His celebrations can be tough to take, but nobody can say he doesn't play with an abundance of intelligence and passion.

Meanwhile, things are not right with KU, which hasn't quite figured out yet how to bring out the best in each other, a common puzzle this time of year.

Freshman guard Sherron Collins, who added a little energy to a flat team when he came off the bench against Ball State and applied feisty defensive pressure, showed a little leadership afterward, saying that he planned to organize, with fellow Chicagoan Julian Wright, a players-only meeting to "get our heads straight."

"Coach is going to know about it, but we're going to meet in somebody's room, talk among just the team," Collins said. "We've got to get our heads together and get some things right. We've just got to talk and make sure everybody's on the same page."

Specifically, Collins said, "We've got to get the ball inside and play more off of the big fellas."

Facing Noah and Al Horford will be a stiff test for talented KU freshman Darrell Arthur.

"I think he's ready," Collins said of his classmate. "I've seen him play with the best."

By that, he meant during the McDonald's All-American practices and game. How did he look?

"Like a McDonald's All-American," Collins said. "He's a high-flier. He plays above the rim, and he can shoot, too."

He'll have plenty of company up there tonight.


mitch 13 years, 2 months ago

Good to see the team realized that just winning wasn't nearly enough. They need to be learning from each and every game, and using that knowledge to improve. A players only meeting is a step in the right direction. They can receive the best coaching in the world, but at some time they need to remember that when they're out there, they have to rely on each other to help out and play smart. An ugly win is still a win, but it's only a win and nothing more if they learn nothing in the process. They'll figure it out. They're smart and they're talented. Now they just need to figure out how to play as a team up to their potential. Go 'Hawks!

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