Norman, Okla. The Kansas University basketball team slipped back into its B.S. days Monday night inside the Lloyd Noble Center, as in Before Sherron.
Freshman guard Sherron Collins, the driving force behind the team's improvement, didn't have it even a little bit Monday night, so it's a good thing Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers did when it counted. Kansas was on the verge of being on the wrong side of an upset before prevailing, 67-65, against Oklahoma University.
On top of Collins' scoreless evening, during which he often was double-teamed out of getting his normal penetration, the Jayhawks couldn't hit free throws for a long second-half stretch and couldn't handle either Oklahoma's full-court pressure or half-court trapping with much tidiness. In three words, the Jayhawks were shaky, shaky, shaky.
Still, KU, ranked third in the nation in the polls released Monday, survived, using a three-minute, 8-2 run that started at the four-minute mark.
It was a classic example of how a heavily favored team that suffers an unexpected bad night needs to get into survive-and-advance mode. For Collins, who so seldom has looked like a freshman in recent games, it was an education.
"I think this was like a tournament game for Sherron," Chalmers said. "This how it is in the tournament. I think what he takes from tonight is going to better prepare him for the tournament, and we just have to get him going again."
It also could better prepare teams for how to defend against Kansas, which relies so heavily on big men setting screens to free guards, particularly Collins. On this night, the Sooners guards more often than not fought over the screens, and the big man from Oklahoma was there to help double-team the ballhandler.
The way the Sooners mixed up their defensive tactics seemed to confuse and frustrate Collins at times, but to think he won't be able to adjust would be to give such a driven, talented and clever athlete too little credit. Besides, it's not as if he was the only one taken out of his game by the Sooners. Brandon Rush had slippery hands and committed four turnovers. Chalmers, who made some questionable passes, also had four turnovers.
"I don't know if it was our game plan," first-year Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "One of the things we wanted to do : we knew in scouting them they set a ton of ball screens, so we mixed up how we played ball screens. Our guards did a good job of stepping over them and trying to keep him (Collins) in front. When he penetrated, we didn't want to help up, we wanted to help over. He's such a good passer, such a good decision maker, if you help up, they have guys down there he can just give it to, and they can finish around the basket. I don't know if it was so much our defense or a freshman just having an off night."
Whatever it was, consider it an education for Collins. One of the many positive things he has shown this year is that he's a terrific student of the game.
Collins will get it revved back up to full-speed ahead, and when he does, look for the rest to follow. Just because he had a flashback to November in the final game of February doesn't mean he won't be ready for March. He has March madman written all over him.