The Day After: Near-perfection in Austin, Texas
By several accounts, Saturday's 75-62 victory over Texas in Austin was the Jayhawks' best game of the 2014-15 season.
It's hard to argue that. So many positive things went in KU's direction, with a convincing victory over a solid team being the result. The game was on the road and against a Top 20 team. Kansas turned it over just three times all game and did not cough it up once in the second half. The scoring was balanced. Newcomers and veterans contributed equally and Bill Self's crew showed toughness, confidence and even a little swagger.
The Jayhawks made 15 of 19 free throw attempts, recorded more assists and steals than the Longhorns and limited UT to 40 percent shooting, including a 3-of-18 mark from three-point range.
I'll be honest. I thought this would be another Iowa State game, where the home crowd and talent on the opposing bench proved to be too much for the young Jayhawks to overcome. But maybe it was just the opposite. Maybe it was exactly the kind of game this team needed to allow it to believe that what happened in Ames, Iowa, one week earlier was closer to being a fluke than the norm. If that's true and these guys just turned up the belief they have in themselves, the Big 12 race might be over.
So much has been made lately about Cliff Alexander's motor and how important his play is to this team. But would anyone argue that Brannen Greene's motor — or maybe just his head — might be equally as important. The sophomore guard has been sensational in KU's past two games, both tough victories over Top 20 teams. And those efforts came less than a week after it looked as if Greene might be out of the rotation for good. I guess the lesson here is that it's dangerous to write off a guy too early when he has this kind of talent. Bill Self certainly did not do that with Greene and KU is reaping the rewards because of it. If the past two games — and the lessons that were learned leading up to them — are any indication of where this team is headed, Greene and Alexander, all of a sudden, seem to have vaulted to the top of the list — right behind Frank Mason — as KU's most important players. Oh, and while KU was doing its thing in Austin, TCU was taking West Virginia to the wire in Morgantown and Texas Tech was getting ready to knock off Iowa State in Lubbock. Just one week after a loss at Iowa State seemed to blow the Big 12 race wide open, the Jayhawks have jumped right back into the driver's seat in a big way.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Cliff Alexander held his own personal dunk party in Austin. Yes, Alexander's motor was revving high for the second game in a row. And, yes, that was by far the most important part of his game. But the fact that the big fella looked ferocious while playing again is nothing but good news for the Jayhawks. Alexander looked eager to try to dunk everything he could in this one. Maybe it was the challenge of playing against the bigger front line the Longhorns possessed. But if the KU freshman can find a way to channel that same attitude against teams that aren't as big as Texas up front, he could be in for some monster games in the very near future. Props also to Alexander's teammates for so often putting him in good positions to finish strong.
2 – Jamari Traylor's effort alone on that wild play toward the end of the first half was worth a high grade for the entire game. Yes, Traylor hustled to get a block shot on one end, crashed the boards on the other and dove out of bounds after both stretches. And, yes, Traylor's all-out dive at halfcourt was the kind of play Self will be telling young players about for years. But the most impressive part about the whole thing to me was that it started with Traylor getting his shot blocked. When that happened in the past — and even in the not-too-distant past — Traylor had a tendency to show bad body language and let the bad play momentarily take him out of the game. It looks as if Traylor is growing and maturing.
3 – So much was made about UT's length heading into this game, but how about KU's length coming through for the Jayhawks. Not only did Kansas pick up some blocks and steals because of its ability to stretch out defensively, but the Jayhawks also really benefited from their length on the offensive end, as well, whether that was Cliff Alexander flushing shot after shot or Kelly Oubre finishing at the rim. The Longhorns did finish with nine blocks, but it's a real credit to the growth and maturity of this Kansas team
*** Disclaimer: We were really forced to reach for negatives after this game.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Because the rest of the game turned out so well, people probably won't remember KU's 11-2 deficit to open the game. And why should they? As soon as Brannen Greene got going from the outside and Alexander and Perry Ellis picked things up inside, KU dominated. Slow starts like that are usually a recipe for disaster on the road, so they still fit in the category of reasons to sigh. But if KU can overcome any future slow starts the way it did in Austin, even an early double-digit deficit won't make its way onto this list.
2 – KU was out-rebounded, 36-34, and gave up 13 offensive boards to the Longhorns. Like I said, we're nit-picking here. If anything, hanging in there with the Longhorns on the glass shows just how well KU played up front. The Jayhawks matched UT on the offensive glass and had five different players record at least three rebounds.
3 – Wayne Selden's shot is still not quite right. Remember early in the season when Selden was in a big-time shooting slump that got a ton of talk? He snapped out of that one and then that was that, but, as much as things have gotten a little better since then, he's still not completely there with his shot. Selden's shooting percentage in the first six conference games of the season is just 34.6 percent (18 for 52) and that includes Saturday's 2-for-6 performance against Texas. Credit Selden for doing enough “little things” to remain an important part of this team even without clicking on offense, the most notable of which is probably his defensive toughness.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' 75-62 victory over Texas:
• Made Kansas 16-3 overall and 5-1 in Big 12 play for the 10th time under head coach Bill Self.
• Added to KU’s all-time series advantage as Kansas now leads 24-8, including a 7-6 mark in Austin (all games in the Erwin Center).
• Kept KU a perfect 2-0 on CBS this season (vs. UNLV; at Texas) and 42-16 all-time when playing on CBS.
• Marked KU’s 250th victory in Big 12 play (250-50), the most among all league foes. Texas is second at 197-103.
• Improved Self to 341-72 while at Kansas, 14-8 against Texas (13-6 at Kansas) and 548-177 overall.
• Made KU 2,142-825 all-time.
KU (16-3 overall, 5-1 in Big 12 play) will head back out on the road Wednesday night for an 8 p.m. tip-off at TCU. The game will be shown on ESPNU.