No panic here - No. 3 Jayhawks soaring into regular-season finale
LAWRENCE, Kan. — If their leading scorer went into a shooting swoon and their point guard failed to get a single point, most teams might fly right into a panic attack, especially so close to tournament time.
Of course, most teams don’t wield as much weaponry as Kansas.
The No. 3 Jayhawks, who have won seven in a row and 10 of 11, have far too much depth to let little things like that rattle their confidence.
Brandon Rush isn’t scoring? OK, then have wing man Julian Wright ring up 18 points.
Sherron Collins, who has been a spark plug off the bench, isn’t scoring at all in his first Big 12 start? Then give the ball to Mario Chalmers and let him score another 18.
Despite the troubles of Brandon Rush and Collins, and despite letting a big halftime lead slip away, the Jayhawks (26-4 overall, 13-2 Big 12) managed to scratch out a tough 67-65 win at Oklahoma on Monday night. Then they watched No. 15 Texas beat No. 8 Texas A&M in a double-overtime thriller Wednesday night that clinched for the Jayhawks a share of their 50th conference championship in 100 years of varsity basketball.
It seems lately as though nothing can stop them. In their last six games, they have had six different leading scorers.
If they close out the year at home Saturday with a victory over the Longhorns, the Jayhawks will own the conference title outright.
“Over time, we’ve been pretty consistently good this year,” coach Bill Self said Thursday. “I do think we’re playing our best ball now, though that wasn’t as evident against Oklahoma in the second half.”
It has been a hallmark of his teams as Self worked his way up the coaching ladder at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois before replacing Roy Williams four years ago at Kansas.
“We just seem to play better in conference than we do in the preseason and that’s because of what we emphasize,” Self said. “Our goal from day one is to win the league and that’s the focus. That is the second season and once Saturday is over, we’ll change our focus and start talking about the postseason. There are a lot of reasons why teams play better or worse late in the year.”
Brandon Rush, the 6-foot-6 sophomore guard, still leads the Jayhawks’ balanced attack with 13.7 points per game. But in the last three games, he is just 7-for-24.
“I don’t know if I’d call it a slump, but he hasn’t performed as well in the last three games,” Self said. “We’ve talked, and I don’t think it’s any one thing that is hanging over his head. For us to be a great team, we need him to perform because he is one of our best players.”
Brandon Rush’s troubles actually began at Colorado on Feb. 14 when he was 3-for-10 for seven points in an otherwise impressive 75-46 victory.
“I think he may be putting a little too much pressure on himself and when he does that, he gets tentative,” Self said. “I don’t think it’s a slump, but I do think it’s something of a funk for the last week or so.”
Brandon Rush insisted he wasn’t in a slump or a funk.
“I don’t think so. I just haven’t had my mind into the games,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. I haven’t been taking that many shots, either. I’m going to try and put it behind me.”
Collins, the 5-10 freshman point guard who had electrified the program the past 10 games, made his first start at Oklahoma after Russell Robinson hurt his foot, and was 0-for-5. It was the first time all year he had failed to score, and he also had two turnovers and only two assists.
But he’s taking the positive approach.
“I think it was good for me,” Collins said Thursday. “I’ve been playing good and I needed to go through something like that so I can see what other things I can do on the court to help my team. I wasn’t playing good, but I never lost confidence or anything.”
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