Mayer: Bruins trouble in tourney

Friday, February 8, 2008

Not again! I'm pleading with the bracketology gods of college basketball to prevent Kansas and UCLA meeting before the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Why such fervent prayer? KU is 0-5 against the Bruins in tourney play; right now the Ukes are better than the '08 Jayhawks. If KU is doomed to 0-6, don't let it happen before only Memphis, Duke, UCLA and Kansas remain.

UCLA dropped Kansas, 68-60, in the '71 national semifinals, then KU fell to Western Kentucky in a third-place game. In '74, UCLA prevailed, 78-61, in another third-place face-off after Marquette dumped KU in the national semifinals (North Carolina State won the title from Marquette).

There was a '78 KU first-round loss to UCLA, 83-76, at Eugene, Ore. (when announcer Curt Gowdy butchered so many names). Mastery of KU by the Bruins hibernated after a 71-70 sub-regional thriller at Atlanta in '90. The cocky Uclans bagged another "sure thing" last March, 68-55, in the Elite Eight. KU trailed only 35-31 at the half. The Jayhawks had plenty of chances to win since UCLA had 25 turnovers. Yet Kansas negated its 17 steals with 21 turnovers and let the Californians go 8-for-17 with three-pointers. Aaron Afflalo punctured KU with 24 points.

Afflalo is gone, but UCLA's recent massacre of Arizona showed countless reasons for KU not to stalk the Bruins for a while - certainly not early in tournament play. The Ukes have three lightning-quick guards in Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook. The sluggish Jayhawks let Kansas State's and Missouri's speedy guards whip them off the dribble; such nightmares would be compounded by UCLA.

In 6-foot-9, 260-pound freshman center Kevin Love, UCLA has an entity that KU couldn't handle at this stage. Little wonder people are talking about this versatile powerhouse, with incredible grasp of the game, in the same breath with K-State's Michael Beasley for freshman-of-the-year (and certain NBA first-round selection). The Bruins have size and experience in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Alfred Aboya, who were big trouble in '07.

¢ Mark Mangino is quietly but steadily running a football recruiting machine that has a great chance to remedy one of KU's all-time Achilles heels - productive numbers. While Mark and Co. may not be bringing in the alleged, egotistical heirs to the throne of Jim Thorpe or Jim Brown, they are getting fine, coachable kids like Todd Reesing and Brandon McAnderson. They are filling the ranks not just with "stars" but guys who will play a lot, and well, maybe not instantaneously but down the line.

KU's had superstars like Ray Evans, John Hadl, Gale Sayers (add your choices). It too often has fallen short of the usable depth that can post 12-1 records and win Orange Bowls. Mangino is building 55-and-up rosters that have the "padding" to keep things going.

McAnderson is a classic example of a kid who was given tutelage and opportunity, constantly improved and produced big-time without a lot of pressure. KU has had a lot of "late-bloomers" like B-Mac, Carl Sandefur, Andy Graham and the like who paid off down the line. There have been local stars like the Wertzbergers, John and Ken, but they, too, are typical of how you can get good kids and develop them.

You need direction, talent and desire, but you also need lots of good, if not great, guys. Mangino's understanding of this necessity has put KU where it is, well into the realm of respectability.