Archive for Sunday, December 4, 2005

Kansas wrings ‘Necks

Wright sparks Jayhawks

December 4, 2005


After playing double-digit minutes in Kansas University's first four basketball games -- as well as two exhibitions -- a healthy Julian Wright was barely used at all in Thursday's loss against Nevada.

Did the freshmen brood?

Get mad?

Nope. He had a good practice Friday and responded with career highs in points (14), assists (five) and blocks (four) while being rewarded with a career-best 23 minutes in the Jayhawks' 86-57 bounce-back victory over Western Illinois on Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

"The Nevada game ... it was coach's call. We were trying to win the game. It was nothing personal. I didn't take it personally," Wright said after leading KU in scoring on a night Micah Downs and Stephen Vinson ate up most of the minutes normally given to Jeff Hawkins and Russell Robinson, who played just a minute-and-a-half in the second half.

"I came out today and tried to run the floor," Wright said. "Coach wanted us to run the floor, use athleticism, be active."

The lanky 6-foot-8 Chicagoan, who missed three of four free throws the first half, scored seven points and fed Christian Moody three times for layups as KU led, 45-31, at the break.

He had a slam dunk off an alley-oop feed from Mario Chalmers and fed Moody for a bucket in a 7-2 run that closed the half, a run that took place with four freshmen in the game, as well as Moody, who had eight points the first half and finished with 12.

"Julian can do that. He made some spectacular passes," KU coach Bill Self said. "He's a good passer, then he'll get sped up and not play quite as sound.

"It was good for him. He got off to a rough start missing four of his first five free throws. He finished strong."

He ended up hitting five of eight floor shots and four of eight charities in 23 minutes.

But what about the Nevada game?

"The other night, he had a rough three minutes," Self said with a smile. "That's just how it goes sometimes."

"It's a trust issue," Wright noted. "Coach couldn't trust me in that type of game. You've got to work hard in practice, and that will carry over in the game. If I stay aggressive in practice, coach will trust me more. I'm trying to do what coach wants -- let it come to me."

Wright's effort impressed fellow freshman Downs, who had 10 points (3-of-12 shooting) and seven boards in a career-high 27 minutes.

12Number of Jayhawks who played against WIU

12Number of Jayhawks who scored against WIU

25:13KU's assist-to-turnover ratio

12:22WIU's assist-to-turnover ratio

"He's really a skilled passer, especially for his size," Downs said. "If we can get him the ball around the high-post area, he can turn, face up and distribute really well to the low block, the corner or wherever."

As far as the free throws ...

"I missed a few, more than a few," Wright said. "Sometimes in a game I get too antsy and rush things. The second half, I tried to calm down a bit."

"He's definitely a better free-throw shooter than that," Downs said. "I think he's just got a lot of things going through his mind about playing and everything. Once he gets his mind-set right, he'll be fine. Coach really wants us to have a tough mind-set out on the court and a presence about ourselves."

Two Jayhawks certainly didn't have the mind-set the coach wanted Saturday. Starters Hawkins and Robinson played the first 1 1/2 minutes of the second half (after logging 13 and nine the first half), and that was it.

Self was miffed Western Illinois opened the second half with a 5-0 run, cutting the gap to nine points, and after a quick timeout Self put in Vinson, Chalmers and Downs for Robinson, Brandon Rush and Hawkins.

The subs responded with a 12-0 run that included Vinson assists on threes by Downs and Chalmers. Also, Chalmers had crisp assists to C.J. Giles and Sasha Kaun, who had 10 points apiece.

"I was really disappointed on how the starters started the second half," Self said. "We got beat the last time at home and should come out with energy. Of the guys we subbed, Brandon got in a little bit later. The others didn't.

"It wasn't all their fault. I think our mind-set still has to become more aggressive. Certainly that wasn't the way you start a half when you have a comfortable lead, to have the other team believe they can play with you. That's what happened there."

Lawrence High product Vinson wound up recording career highs in minutes (17) and assists (four). He tied a career highs in points (five) and boards (two).

"In the game tonight, I don't think there's any question he was our best perimeter player," Self said. "Stephen was as good a performer as we had tonight."

Vinson was ready when called upon early in the second half.

"Coach didn't tell us anything other than he was looking for a spark," Vinson said. "We kind of took it as motivation. We had a pretty good idea why we were being sent in. We were doing the same stuff, just tried to execute it better."

All in all, Self thought the Jayhawks responded well after the Nevada loss. KU had 25 assists on 29 baskets, hitting 49.2 percent of its shots, including seven of 20 threes. Western Illinois, which was led by David Jackson's 17 points, hit 29.5 percent of its shots.

The four freshmen finished with 31 of the team's 86 points and 13 of 40 rebounds, plus 14 of the 25 assists.

"I want them to play," Self said. "Julian needs some confidence. Brandon played 25 minutes and wasn't as aggressive as he needs to be. Micah did some good things. We just need him to make some shots, get offensive rebounds. Mario had a good stat line except for shooting the ball (1 of 5)."

The Jayhawks (3-3) will meet St. Joseph's at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

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