Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Woodling: KU’s Collison, Hinrich perfect complements

March 30, 2003


— You can't have a teeter without a totter, you can't have yin without yang, and you can't have ebb without flow.

And you wouldn't have a Kansas University's men's basketball team going to New Orleans and the NCAA Final Four next weekend if it weren't for Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.

Many's the time the two Iowa-born KU seniors have had productive games on the same night, yet it has been the ability of one to produce when the other hasn't that enabled Kansas to advance to the Big Easy from what everyone except maybe the Queen of Prussia called the toughest regional in the country.

Collison scored 33 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the Jayhawks' 69-65 victory Thursday over Duke. Then, with Arizona coach Lute Olson determined to limit Collison's touches by playing a zone defense, Hinrich stepped up and drilled 10 baskets, only four from inside the three-point arc, and scored 28 points.

Saturday night's fingernail-endangering 78-75 triumph over Arizona in the NCAA West Regional final at the Arrowhead Pond was a classic case of picking your poison, and proof that you can't cut off one arm and slay Kansas. You have amputate them both.

Late in the Big 12 Conference season, I lobbied for Collison and Hinrich to be tapped co-players of the year. They should have been, but the concept was too foreign to media voters, and Oklahoma's Hollis Price was voted the prize. Collison was thrown a bone, however, when the coaches named him the league's most outstanding player.

If Hinrich felt at the time he had been snubbed, he kept it to himself, or at least he never mentioned it in public, not that he ever would because, well, he's Kirk Hinrich -- a coach's son who learned early that one man has never won a five-man game single-handed.

Now that the Jayhawks are going to back-to-back Final Fours for the first time in 50 years -- hopefully, KU won't have to wait until 2052 and 2053 to do it again -- Hinrich finally has been honored. He was named the West Region's most outstanding player. Applause, please. I don't know if Hinrich received a plaque or a trophy or a certificate or an official blue NCAA paper cup in recognition, but he certainly earned it the old-fashioned way.

Both Collison and Hinrich considered turning pro after their junior years, but opted to come back, they said, because they weren't quite sure they were ready for the NBA and because they felt they had unfinished business.

"They could be making money now," KU coach Roy Williams quipped, "instead of eating Jack in the Box on the bus."

Jack in the Box fast-food franchises are located all over the West Coast, and it's probably safe to say most NBA players do not dine on Jack in the Box after games.

As talented as Collison and Hinrich -- or Hinrich and Collison, if you prefer -- are, they will never be the sum of the parts as they continue to take care of unfinished business. They need some help, and against Arizona they received it from an unlikely source -- Jeff Graves.

How many times during the season has Graves, the junior-college transfer who earned a starting role only because Wayne Simien went down because of a dislocated shoulder, played like Peter Graves?

Seemingly always in foul trouble, the 6-foot-9, 265-pounder -- depending on how many Jack in the Boxes he ate late Saturday night -- has logged more than 30 minutes only three times all season, and two of those were against Arizona.

In the Jayhawks' 91-74 loss to the Wildcats Jan. 25 in Allen Fieldhouse, Graves played a career-high 34 minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds. Saturday night, Graves played 32 minutes -- he also logged 32 minutes in his first career start at Iowa State -- and scored 13 points with a career-high 15 rebounds.

"I didn't think he could play 32 minutes when they didn't have any referees," KU coach Roy Williams said.

Make no mistake, though. As much as the Jayhawks need a lift from an unexpected source from time to time, this is and will be forever be known as "The Hinrich-Collison Kansas Team" win, lose or draw.

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