Kansas took down Illinois on Sunday, March 20, 2011 in Tulsa, Okla. to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 73-59 victory over Illinois on March 20, 2011.
Tulsa, Okla. Three great athletes from Kansas University finished like champions Sunday and showed the world how much they have grown.
Two of them always wowed people with their unusual skill for men their size, displaying such amazing finesse, but they arrived at KU needing to instill power in their games.
Another always had extraordinary power and had to refine the finesse end of his game.
Right about the time Marcus and Markieff Morris were riding the Kansas team bus to the BOK Center for a game against Illinois, the tallest team in the NCAA Tournament, Gary Woodland, 26 and one of the longest drivers of the golf ball on the PGA Tour, drained clutch putts 1,200 miles away, in Tampa, Fla., to win his first tour event, a $990,000 purse, and a spot in the Masters field.
The performance of the Morris twins in a 73-59 victory against Illinois had little to do with finesse and everything to do with power and toughness. Woodland’s greatness wasn’t about overpowering the golf ball, though he certainly did that, smoking a 2-iron 287 yards off the tee on No. 18. It was about him making all of his putts.
“I talked to him Saturday night, and the last thing I said to him was, ‘Let’s make tomorrow a great day for Jayhawks.’ He said he knew what I meant,” said Woodland’s college coach, Ross Randall. “He didn’t miss a single putt inside 20 feet. Nobody does that. That just doesn’t happen.”
And Marcus and Markieff Morris, who as freshmen said they bypassed dunks in order to conserve energy, didn’t miss a chance to rattle the rim in closing out an Illinois team that did a nice job of hanging around.
The referees let the players play in this one, and the twins played through chops on the arm, smacks in the face and shoves in the back without hearing a whistle, losing their cool or stopping to beg for a call. They kept plowing forward, kept attacking the rim.
“It was one of those games where we knew if we didn’t attack the basket, we easily could lose,” said Markieff, who didn’t let that happen by contributing 24 points in 12 rebounds.
Marcus added 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“There’s two of them, there’s two of them,” point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “That’s what we keep saying. And they come up with the same numbers.”
Numbers earned with rugged play on this night.
“I think they’re more tough than they are skilled,” Taylor said. “I think they just use their skill a little bit more. When it gets time with games like this and they know that the refs are letting them play, I think they like it more, especially Markieff, as you can see. He was a beast today. And Marcus made some amazing shots, some tough shots.”
The twins impressed tough Tyrel Reed.
“There may be moments in games where coach (Bill) Self says, ‘You’re soft,’ or in practice, but really deep down at the core they’re some tough kids,” Reed said. “They realize they’ve got each other’s back, no matter what. So they’re going to fight and play as hard as they can, and no matter what happens, the other one’s got the other one’s back. I’m proud of those guys.”
Thomas Robinson, always a physical presence, battles the twins in practice and knows more than anybody what’s inside them.
“I won’t say their toughness is overlooked,” Robinson said. “In my eyes, physical and tough players are what they are. They played like grown men tonight, especially in the second half. They took over the game.”
All the KU players felt like a million bucks, even though they made $990,000 less than Woodland on Sunday.
“Winning a million dollars, jeez, I bet he’s feeling pretty good right now,” Reed said. “Maybe there’s a correlation. One Jayhawk does good, and the other ones follow.”
Self played a round with Woodland a few summers ago at Lawrence Country Club, and Woodland drove the green on the 359-yard first hole. Woodland, who played basketball at Washburn University as a freshman, made the 15-footer for an eagle, and Self spent the next 17 holes trailing him.
“This was a big day for KU,” Self said. “I heard he won it on the 18th hole. Moved to No. 3 in the Fed Ex standings, if I’m not mistaken (Self wasn’t), and probably the top five in money (third with $1.85 million). Gary obviously is a great golfer, but what a great guy. And he’s a ballplayer. That gives all of us guys who played ball hope that we can golf. I heard our softball team had a great day, and I heard our baseball team had a good day, so this was a good day for KU athletics.”
It certainly was, and three athletes who worked hard to turn their weaknesses into strengths had a big part in making it such a memorable one.