November 23, 2011

Kansas hangs onto big lead

Heading into Tuesday's match up, no one knew what to expect from No. 14 Kansas (3-1; 0-0), but a blowout win over UCLA (1-3; 0-0), 72-56, gave the Jayhawks a new level of confidence as they prepare for the Maui Championship against Duke.

A close win over Georgetown the previous night left at least a sliver of doubt in the eyes of most Kansas fans, but after Tuesday, it's safe to say Kansas is better than advertised, and UCLA is possibly worse than Bruins fans had expected.

Elijah Johnson led the way in both points (23) and minutes played (38) as Kansas streaked past the Bruins of UCLA in Maui on Tuesday night.

As expected, the size and depth of UCLA forced Kansas into using its guards as the main source of offense, but without a doubt, junior forward Thomas Robinson and center Jeff Withey got theirs, combining for 21 points and 16 rebounds.

At the end of the day, however, it was Johnson who led the way for Kansas, scoring a career high in points, knocking down outside shots as well as cleaning up around the basket for easy lay-ins. His most important two points; a key jumper with minutes left to silence a furious UCLA rally which brought the Bruins within five after KU had led by as many as 20.

In the first half, it was all Kansas, led by fast break points and stringent defense, heading into the break, up 43-26. Kansas was not only efficient on the offensive end, but highly opportunistic on the defensive end, taking advantage of sloppy possessions by the Bruins and using their overall team speed and athleticism to get out into the open floor.

Robinson, who recorded yet another double-double, scored 15 points and hauled in 10 boards, followed by 13 points and six assists from senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who sat much if the first half with foul trouble.

UCLA was led by Tyler Lamb's 15 points, hitting 3-of-4 from three.

As much as the Bruins may have had the depth down low, they were never able to take advantage of it, as sophomore big man Joshua Smith found himself in foul trouble from the beginning, and began to project an attitude which set the tone for much of the game.

Just when it seemed as though KU would put the Bruins away, possibly by 30-plus, UCLA crawled back and made it game. Reeves Nelson, who has suspended for much of the year so far, brought his team back by hitting consecutive three-pointers, which was followed by a barrage of the outside shots from a team which was hitting a meager 18-percent from behind the arc heading into the Maui Invite.
Nelson ended with 13 points, hitting 3-of-4 from behind the arc.

Despite the run, Kansas was able to recover and score, plus get defensive stops late to seal the deal and guarantee themselves a winning record on the gorgeous island of Maui before heading home for more non-conference opponents.

At the end of the day, it was the Rock Chalk Chant which finished things off for the Jayhawks as they prepare for the Duke Blue Devils on Wednesday evening in the Lahaina Civic Center.

Duke has never lost in the Maui Invite, currently holding a 14-0 record.

Duke is a great jump-shooting team which should create problems for Kansas on the perimeter, which means Robinson and Withey will need to be at their best, specifically on the offensive end, Wednesday night in what should prove to be one of the better early season matchups of the year.

By the time is all said and done, Kansas will have played quite easily the toughest schedule in the early portion of the year than any other team in the country, a schedule which should pay dividends by the time April and March come around.

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