Keegan: Jayhawks better with healthy Collins

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Audio clips

2007-08 March 8 KU-Texas A&M Hoops

— It has been awhile since the "What's wrong with Kansas?" question that led to so much insomnia has been asked with any credibility. It also has been awhile since Sherron Collins' knee has prevented him from performing high-speed magic shows with the basketball.

A coincidence? Uh, no.

Collins steered the Jayhawks to a 72-55 regular-season-finale victory Saturday against a Texas A&M team that just didn't have the speed to keep pace.

With Collins looking more like his healthy self, Kansas defeated Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M by an average margin of victory of 29.3 points, a figure inflated by the 58-point slaughter of Tech. During that season-ending stretch, Collins averaged 14.7 points, had 14 assists and two turnovers.

He never was better than Saturday, when in 32 minutes he totaled 13 points with seven assists and not a single turnover.

Collins sends a defense scrambling in a way no other KU player can, and he, more than anybody on the offensive side, was responsible for the greatest statistical disparity on the box score, a 44-12 points-in-the-paint advantage for the Jayhawks.

Former Kansas point guard Mark Turgeon, who coached against his alma mater for the first time Saturday, marveled at the influence Collins had on the game.

"That's a quick team," Turgeon said. "Texas is fast and quick, but that's another level today. And when Sherron Collins plays like that, boy, it could be their year, if he stays healthy. He was really, really good today."

Foot surgery sidelined Collins early in the season, and a bruised knee slowed him more recently. Without him at his best, Kansas looked as if it lacked energy. What it really lacked was the advantage of having a man who consistently blows by his man and basically sets up a 5-on-4 advantage.

When Collins blew by his man, he knew where to get the ball, feeding Darrell Arthur (16 points). Mario Chalmers (16 points, four steals), per usual doing a little bit of everything at both ends, also had a big day.

"I thought Shady was great in the first half," KU coach Bill Self said of Arthur. "Mario was great the majority of the game. But there was a stretch in the second half it was Sherron's game. He controlled the game. That's something people that follow us know we haven't had consistently at all this year, and, hopefully, we can continue to get better and progress and get him playing with that full head of steam that he has. I don't know if he's got an extra gear, but he's so low to the ground."

And so clever with the ball at such high speeds. Once, Collins drove into a crowded lane, and the only way he could get where he needed to go was to dribble behind his back, and he did it so quickly those who blinked probably missed it.

With a healthy Collins, KU's two greatest strengths, quickness and depth, become so much louder.

"They've got seven or eight starters, it seems like," Turgeon said. "There's no drop-off when they sub. You line us up in a foot race, it's not even close. They're fast."

And seemingly peaking just in time.