Recap: Nebraska puts up a fight at the Fieldhouse
When asked (rhetorically) whether I would bet (fictional, non-existent) money on Kansas defeating Nebraska by more than 21.5 points, I didn't think twice:
"Of course," I said, remembering the ludicrous blowouts — equal parts awe-inspiring and pathetic — I witnessed KU hand Nebraska in 2007 and 2008 in Allen Fieldhouse. KU won those games by an average of 44 points and tacked on a 17-point victory against Nebraska last season in Lawrence.
So I was a bit shocked to see the Huskers hang around after the Jayhawks' hot start and even more surprised when Nebraska grabbed the lead for about three minutes in the second half. As it usually does, KU sorted things out and dispatched Nebraska to pull to 8-0 in conference play, but two* poor stretches kept the game from turning into standard Allen Fieldhouse fare.
• The Huskers' ability to stick around in the first half seemed like a byproduct of KU's foul problems. By the time 6:20 remained in the first half, center Cole Aldrich and forward Thomas Robinson each had two fouls and forward Markieff Morris had three. Reserve center Jeff Withey contributed nine decent, rebound-and-defense-heavy minutes, but there's no way around it: KU is obviously a better team with Aldrich, Markieff Morris, and at least the option of Robinson.
Then the negative effect Aldrich's and Morris' foul trouble had on KU in the first half became evident in the second half when the pair helped the Jayhawks pull away. Markieff scored all seven of KU's points during a 46-second stretch in which KU expanded the scoring margin from 10 to 15. Aldrich didn't score until 14:29 remained in the game but still managed to finish with eight points in his 21 minutes.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/06/ku_bkc_nu_nk_23.jpg Jeff Withey and Marcus Morris picked up the slack for their foul-prone teammates — Nick Krug/LJW Photo
• The second Nebraska run seemed to be a product of the Huskers just making shots KU opponents usually do not. Forward Ryan Anderson and guard Sek Henry each contributed a three-pointer and forward Brian Diaz scored four points in the opening five minutes of the second half. Meanwhile, KU's offense stagnated. The Jayhawks ended just two of their first seven second half possessions by scoring, two with turnovers and three with missed shots. Nebraska's push to grab the lead might have been a case of KU needing to brush the halftime cobwebs away.
The always-enlightening Game Flow graphic, compliments of StatSheet.com:
*And yes, I'm aware KU suffered late in the game from a third swoon. But considering the closest Nebraska came was nine points with 45 seconds to play, I have a feeling the only ones affected by this mini-comeback were the scoundrels betting real money on the contest. For shame.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
Two Jayhawks stood far above the pack Saturday: guard Sherron Collins and forward Marcus Morris. But in the spirit of not being annoying, there won't be any co-M.O.J. honors awarded here. Collins gets the nod. In the days leading up to Saturday's game, Nebraska guard Sek Henry told Huskersillustrated.com that he "knew" he could guard Collins. Henry and his teammates didn't do a great job Saturday on Collins, who was KU's most efficient offensive player by a long shot. The senior floor general generated 1.46 points per possession by hanging out and waiting for open shots to come to him. Collins used 22 percent of KU's possessions for his shots, third most among starters, and managed a solid 17 points.
Room for improvement
KUSports online editor Jesse Newell analyzed KU's defense Saturday morning, and one of the fun facts included was that the Jayhawks are excellent defensively without forcing many turnovers.
KU forced Nebraska into myriad turnovers Saturday. In fact, the usually-steady Huskers committed a turnover on 29.2 percent of their possessions against KU, their sloppiest showing of the season. It was KU's third-most tenacious defensive performance of the season, after only non-conference victories against Alcorn State and Belmont. Still, Nebraska tallied 0.98 points per possession, just under the national and the Huskers' season averages. Chalk that up to Nebraska's 58.8 percent three-point shooting.
KU is neither terrible nor great at limiting opponents' long-distance accuracy this season, coming in at 109th nationally in three-point field goal percentage allowed. Some of that could be defensive scheme. Some of that could be a matter of which teams are on the schedule. Some of that could be chance.
Hard luck line
For the sixth consecutive game, Xavier Henry produced less than one point per possession used. For the fourth time in those six contests, the freshman used more than 20 percent of KU's possessions on his shots. That doesn't help the Jayhawks much. Although Henry has played solid defense — Bill Self said he was pleased with Henry's all-around game — his shooting woes don't seem to be solving themselves.
Food for thought:
Xavier Henry's eFG%, game-by-game (StatSheet.com)
The Bottom Line:
The victory may have been closer than expected, but KU showed some definite flashes of greatness Saturday during a defense-fueled second-half run. If not for foul trouble and some late let-up, KU might have treated Nebraska like the Nebraska of years past.
KU is now eight victories away from the big 2,000. You can browse pictures and original stories from each of the Jayhawks' milestone victories here.