Alexander has lofty goal for Jayhawks

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) gets up to reject a shot from Kent State forward Jimmy Hall (35) during the second half on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) gets up to reject a shot from Kent State forward Jimmy Hall (35) during the second half on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Asked to reveal one wish for the New Year, Kansas University freshman basketball forward Cliff Alexander paused for just a moment, grinned, then responded, “Go undefeated.”

Odds of No. 13-ranked KU (10-2) winning out, of course, appear mighty slim. For that to happen, the Jayhawks would have to conclude the nonconference schedule Sunday with a win against (9-4) UNLV, a team that has handed No. 8 Arizona its only loss in 13 games. The Jayhawks would have to follow that with an undefeated Big 12 Conference campaign, postseason league tournament and NCAA Tournament.

KU’s chances of beating the Rebels in Sunday’s 3:30 p.m., tip in Allen Fieldhosue and winning an 11th-straight Big 12 title would improve greatly if the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Alexander continues to play as he did in a six-minute stretch in the second half of Tuesday’s 78-62 home win over Kent State.

Alexander started that span at the 10-minute mark with a vicious block of a Jimmy Hall shot.

Next, he rebounded a Kelly Oubre Jr., miss and scored off the carom. Then he connected on two free throws and flushed a lob pass from Wayne Selden Jr., seconds after another block on defense. He hit a short hook shot and after a steal threw down a one-handed dunk that was erased by a controversial traveling call.

“Very exciting,” Alexander said of his play in the second half that followed a first half in which he had no points and one rebound in five minutes. “It’s a spurt. I always go on a spurt.”

He responded after instructions from coach Bill Self at halftime.

“I think I played kind of sluggish in the first half,” Alexander said. “Coach told me at halftime I need to pick it up, so that’s what I did.

“That was my game,” he added of his play in the final half. “That’s mainly what I did in high school (at Chicago Curie), get blocked shots and run the floor and end up with dunks.”

For the year, Alexander has averaged 8.2 points (off 54.7 percent shooting) and 5.8 rebounds a game with a team-leading 16 blocks. He’s averaged 18.2 minutes per game.

“Consistency probably as much as anything,” Self said of what Alexander must do to emerge as a force in league play. “To me it’s not that complicated because he can play well if he’s just active, because he can get rebounds.

“It’s the consistency to go do it each and every possession. He’s gaining on it. He will be a really good player, no question.”

Alexander just wants to keep improving.

“I’m very happy. I’ve come a long way from when I first started and now I’m here,” he said.

Fellow big man Landen Lucas said he was encouraged by Alexander’s play in the second half Tuesday.

“I thought he did well. He bounced back,” Lucas said. “I feel he might have come out a little slow. He’s one of those guys that will all of a sudden have a spurt of a couple good minutes. I know coach is looking for him to come out and play like that all the time. It was nice for him to finish the game like he did.”

Alexander applauded the play of two of KU’s other bigs.

“Landen played very well, going after loose balls, getting every offensive rebound,” Alexander said. “Jamari (Traylor, eight points, three rebounds, one block, one steal, one assist, three turnovers in 21 minutes) played well also. We (bigs) played a lot better (than in 25-point loss to Temple). We had no unforced turnovers the first half. That’s what we did against Temple. We just picked it up.”

Self thinks Alexander and the other bigs made strides Tuesday.

“They (Golden Flashes) got on the high side a lot which allows us to get the ball inside more,” Self said. “I thought other than a couple post traps we handed poorly early on, our big guys played much better. I thought Landen was really good the first half; Cliff really good the second. Jamari was really good the first. Perry (Ellis, 15 points, eight boards) was pretty consistent the majority of the game when he was in there.”

Alexander, by the way, said his bruised shin that has slowed him some “is coming along. It’s gotten a lot better.”

Sunday’s foe: KU’s next foe, UNLV, dropped its Mountain West Conference opener to Wyoming, 76-71, on Wednesday in Laramie. Christian Wood, a 6-11 sophomore from Long Beach, California, had a career-high 29 points for the Rebels while playing the entire game. He hit 10 of 15 shots and was 4-of-6 from three. Rashad Vaughn, a 6-6 freshman from Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, had 16 points and no boards in 31 minutes. KU’s Oubre also attended the Vegas prep school.

Ford speaks: ESPN’s Chad Ford has put out rankings of the top 10 NBA prospects (currently in college) at each position, based on conversations with NBA scouts and GMs.

KU’s Oubre is ranked No. 2 (behind Duke’s Justise Winslow) at small forward and is the No. 9 overall prospect on Ford’s 2015 NBA Draft big board. Alexander is the No. 7 power forward and ranked No. 22 overall. Wayne Selden Jr., is listed as a “notable” shooting guard prospect, but is not in the top 10 at that position.

Jeff Goodman’s latest mock draft, released this week at ESPN.com, has Oubre No. 12 in the upcoming draft and Alexander No. 20. Sporting News’ latest mock draft, also updated this week, has Oubre No. 16 and Alexander No. 17.

Recruiting: KU coaches are expected to attend a game of prospect Carlton Bragg tonight in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zagsblog.com reports. Bragg, a 6-9 senior from Villa Angela St. Joseph High in Cleveland who is ranked No. 14 by Rivals.com, has cut his list to KU, Kentucky, UCLA and Illinois. He attended KU’s Late Night in the Phog. ... Jayson Tatum, a 6-7 junior from Chaminade High in St. Louis, who is ranked No. 4 in the Class of 2016, also is playing in the tourney in West Virginia. ... Ivan Rabb, a 6-9 senior forward who is ranked No. 7 nationally, will visit Arizona this weekend, Zagsblog.com reports. His mom, Tami, says she and her son will also visit KU, Cal, UCLA and Kentucky.