Chicago Russell Robinson had just started to stretch during pregame warmups Friday when a jittery Kansas University fan offered some unsolicited advice from the United Center stands.
"Somebody yelled, 'Don't come out too tight.' I got the vibe that's what they were thinking we'd do," Robinson said. "We'd lost two in a row in the first round. The fans might have been a little nervous about what might happen today."
No reason for worry. None at all.
The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks, who were bounced in Round One by Bradley and Bucknell the past two seasons, battered No. 16 seed Niagara, 107-67, and easily advanced into Sunday's 4 p.m. second-round match against Kentucky, a 67-58 winner over Villanova in Friday's late game.
"It is a sigh of relief. We got the monkey off our back," stated KU junior guard Robinson, whose 11-point, seven-assist first-half effort helped the Jayhawks crack a 14-14 deadlock and race to a 52-27 halftime lead.
"We didn't prove anything. A No. 1 seed is supposed to win. We can't be satisfied. We didn't come here to win just one game," Robinson added.
Still, the victory - KU's second-largest in NCAA Tournament history next to a 58-point decision over Prairie View A&M; in 1998 - was better than the alternative: another first-round flameout.
"That would have been terrible," KU coach Bill Self said. "I'll be honest. I was nervous before the game. The last two years ended sadly.
"I thought to myself, 'A No. 16 has never beaten a 1.' I didn't tell our guys that. I was really proud of our guys. I thought they came out aggressive for the most part."
Aggressive, but not particularly effective.
Power forward Clif Brown scored eight points while guarded by Julian Wright as the Purple Eagles played the Jayhawks to a 14-all tie the first 71â2 minutes. Self adjusted by putting Brandon Rush (nine points, six assists, five rebounds) on Brown, who did not score the remainder of the half.
Led by Robinson's five points and six from Sherron Collins, the Jayhawks closed the half with a 17-2 run and had things well under control.
"Not really," Robinson said, asked if he thought the tie was a sign of things to come. "Coach said, 'They will not win the game in the first half. Nobody does.' We listened to him, and before we knew it, we had a nice lead."
"I wasn't worried at all," Rush said. "I knew they liked to shoot threes, and they really weren't hitting that many. We just were going too fast and not playing defense at all. I knew that would change."
Niagara, which hit two of 10 threes the first half, cashed two of 19 to KU's 13-of-22 three-point accuracy.
"I don't think we guarded like we can," Self said. "We can rebound better, but you go 13-of-22 from three, it covers a lot of ills."
20 Kansas University field goals in each half21 Niagara field goals for the entire game2-for-19 Niagara's three-point shooting13-for-22 KU's three-point shooting14 Jayhawks who played against Niagara13 Jayhawks who scored against Niagara9:21 Assist-to-turnover ratio for the Purple Eagles29:12 Assist-to-turnover ratio for the Jayhawks
Mario Chalmers, who made eight of nine shots and scored 19 points, swished two threes to open the second half, and Robinson added one, helping KU to a 65-38 lead at 14:23. Darrell Arthur (12 points, eight boards) had six points in a 10-0 spurt, and it was just a matter of time before Self would clear the bench in the rout.
Jeremy Case scored nine points the last nine minutes to lead the bench brigade. Everybody but Brennan Bechard scored; the starters rejoiced when Matt Kleinmann banked in a free throw, then calmly swished a second.
"The best thing about tonight," Robinson said, "is everybody got to play, and they played well."
"The guys on this team really like each other," Self said. "They want to see their teammates get in and do well."
Self coached until the end, but showed no emotion as the final horn sounded.
"I was sick and tired of all the comments the last couple of years, all the stuff," he said of reaction to the first-round losses. "I think they (players) were, too."
Rush seconded that notion.
"I was tired of it," he said. "It was good to get the win. Our crowd feels good. It's good to get them a win and our program back. Now we know we've got a tough game on Sunday."
It's a game the Jayhawks need to win to advance to the Sweet 16 in San Jose, Calif.
"We didn't come here to win one game regardless of the situation in losing in the first round the last two years," Self said. "This team worked hard to get a No. 1 seed. Our goal is to play to that seed. This was nice. This was one small step."