Ames, Iowa Watching Kansas University play basketball has become a lot like watching a baseball team with a great relief pitcher. Half your attention is trained on the action. Half your thoughts are occupied with looking ahead, trying to figure out the right time to bring in the closer to escape a jam, still the turbulent waters, maybe shut down the heart of the order.
Brandon Rush is that closer for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. The difference: In baseball, some closers take naps early in the game; others grow tomatoes in the bullpen to combat boredom. They rest, get rubdowns and stretch to get ready for the most pressure-packed portion of the game.
Rest isn't in the equation for Rush, who has to play his man, hammer the boards and try to inject life into a listless half-court offense. And then, when KU coach Bill Self needs to go to the closer, he switches onto the player on the other team torching the Jayhawks.
Once, it was Florida's 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah. More recently, the closer shut down Oklahoma State's 6-3 JamesOn Curry. In between, Rush limited Southern California's 6-6 Nick Young to a season-low eight points, some of which came when Rush was on the bench.
In Saturday afternoon's 68-64 overtime victory against Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum, Rush checked junior-college transfer Mike Taylor for the final 11 minutes and limited him to two of his 21 points.
The most remarkable aspect of Rush's ability to do what he does is that he's asked to switch onto the hot player when he already has so many minutes on the floor.
Or is it amazing? Rush thinks not.
"I don't get tired at all," Rush said. "I'm in pretty good shape."
That's an understatement akin to saying the Jayhawks had a pretty poor shooting afternoon. It was worse than that. They made just two of 11 three-pointers, shot .419 overall and .583 from the line, missing 10 free throws. The Cyclones were even worse from the line, shooting .421.
Taylor, a 6-2, 165-pound native of Milwaukee, was on his way to compensating for poor free-throw shooting until Rush moved onto him with Iowa State leading 51-48.
A loosey-goosey guard with deep, deep shooting range, the slender Taylor has an array of playground moves and a soft, soft shooting touch. Taylor didn't stop shooting when Rush checked him. He just stopped making the shots. They were deeper shots, with Rush's long arms in the way. Taylor's looks for shots and passes weren't as clean. His remaining two points came in a pair of trips to the line, neither on a foul by Rush. On one of the few moments Rush was beaten on the dribble by Taylor, he more than made amends, sneaking behind him to pick him and taking it all the way for a jam.
Rush's defensive dandy was needed because first-year Iowa State coach Greg McDermott played KU the smart way, sending only three players to the offensive boards so as to protect against the high-speed fast break that has been known to lead to blowouts.
A consistently productive halfcourt offense remains the elusive treasure for Kansas, which still needs to prove it has enough shooting to be included in any discussion of the nation's top handful of teams. It certainly has enough defense, largely thanks to Rush.