Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 67-49 victory over Kansas State on Jan. 4, 2012.
Kansas defeated Kansas State 67-49 on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.
All week in practice, the end-of-the-bench guys on the Kansas University basketball team followed instructions to prepare for the much-anticipated game against rival Kansas State.
The orders called for the guys who wear red jerseys in practice to model their games after hockey goons, hunt heads the way Nolan Ryan did, bring a Ray Lewis mind-set to the basketball court.
The starters knew pretty was not going to describe the game, and the uglier things got in practice the more prepared they felt. Then the game started, and Travis Releford brought the intensity to another level to the delight of the 16,300 spectators in Allen Fieldhouse, who, like Releford, had their best games of the season. It was loud, and it was ugly.
Releford doesn’t have a loud game, but it can look ugly when he’s shooting, his right elbow flying, his release a little slow, or dribbling into trouble, or telegraphing a pass. But Releford knows how to make life miserable for the man he’s guarding, and he did that and more in the first half of KU’s most-impressive 67-49 victory against the Wildcats.
Kansas State’s star junior forward Rodney McGruder came into the game on a two-game streak in which he had scored 42 points and made 15 of 18 field goals.
“In the past, he has outrebounded us on offense and defense,” Releford said. “We just got after it and tried to make sure he didn’t get any rebounds on offense or defense.”
At the half, McGruder had six points and just one rebound on a night KU won the battle of the boards, 50-26.
Self challenged the players all week to a competition, urging each one to be the first to hit the floor for a loose ball. Releford was the winner.
Kansas State won the jump ball, and a few seconds into it, Releford tied up his opponent to force another jump ball. Shortly after that, he ripped the ball right out of a Wildcat’s hands to steal a possession.
He made some mistakes, throwing errant passes, and misfired some shots, but he made six of 11, and he followed one of those misses with a successful put-back, another by flying out of bounds and firing a pass to the lane that led to a bucket.
“I said something to him at halftime about how he got it started off on the right foot, right off the get-go with that jump ball,” said Conner Teahan, who hit back-to-back, back-breaking three-pointers in the second half. “Everybody came up to him and said something. We had a saying, ‘first loose ball.’ Travis got that loose ball. Then he got an offensive rebound, knocked that three down. He gave us confidence with his play early on. He played a great game today.”
A blue-collar basketball player who earns his playing time by frustrating smooth basketball artists into ugly performances, Releford keeps his approach simple.
He’s the see-the-ball, hit-the-ball guy in the batting order, the pitcher who zones in on the catcher’s mitt and tries to hit the target.
Kansas coach Bill Self harped on the need to dominate the boards in the days leading into the game. Sounded simple enough to Releford.
“We had our mind set on trying to control the glass, and we came out and did it,” Releford said.
One Big 12 game down, 17 to go.