Saturday, March 11, 2006

Keegan: Kaun plays big for KU


— It remains to be determined if Kansas University is good enough to win the Big 12 Conference tournament. This much we already know: The Jayhawks are tough enough.

Russell Robinson's blood stained the floor, and seven stitches sewed a gash above his right eye back together, and he wasn't even the KU player who took the most body shots in a 63-62 survival against a short, thick, quick physical Oklahoma State team.

That would be Sasha Kaun, the 6-foot-11 Russian who looks a little like the boxing Klitschko brothers and plays basketball as you'd imagine they would.

For every shot Kaun took from strong, muscular Mario Boggan, he dispensed one or two back. The battle for position made such entertaining theater it sometimes was easy to lose track of the basketball and the other eight players. They leaned and shoved and even got intertwined at times. Neither gladiator wasted any energy pleading with referees for a whistle.

"When you're big, you've got to love games like that," Kaun said. "He's a pretty strong kid. That was fun. That was definitely a lot of fun."

Kaun flashed a smile and in doing so proved he still had all of his teeth.

"Sasha loves that type of game," teammate Brandon Rush said. "He's always hurting somebody in practice by elbowing somebody in the eye or something."

A sophomore, Kaun's an interesting player. His long arms and quick feet give him an advantage over shorter players. He runs the floor better than he leaves it when jumping, though he's not a bad leaper. His unsure hands can hinder him greatly, though that wasn't a problem on this night.

Kaun made six of nine field-goal attempts and half of his eight free throws to finish with 16 points. He also had five rebounds and three blocks. The talented Boggan, giving away four inches to Kaun, was limited to 10 points and three rebounds.

Center has been the least productive position for the Jayhawks offensively, and anything they can get from Kaun, C.J. Giles and Darnell Jackson will help, especially on nights when the opposition has an answer for Rush, limited to six points and just six field-goal attempts by 6-9 Marcus Dove and his defensive helpers.

"Sasha has always liked to bang," Giles said. "He's coming to understand how to bang to get position, to get rebounds and to get points."

Kaun has scored in double figures twice in the past 10 games, both times against Oklahoma State.

"We knew it was going to be a real physical game," Julian Wright said. "For Sasha to be doing all that and scoring the way he did is great for his confidence and for the whole team's confidence."

Kaun played 26 minutes, his most in the past eight games.

No telling how many minutes he'll play today against a Nebraska team whose big players aren't as physical as Oklahoma State's and don't run the floor as well, but do more damage from the perimeter.

Oklahoma getting upset by the Cornhuskers means Kaun won't get to experience the pleasure of exchanging pushes, shoves and elbows with Sooners wide body Kevin Bookout. Just as well. He got two days worth of that against Boggan.


Gary McCullough 16 years, 6 months ago

First Rush, then Robinson, then Mario and lately Wright and Giles have made significant improvement in their respective games. Now if Sasha starts to step up his play like he showed us in the OSU game, we may have the whole package in place just as we're getting ready to dance.

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