Rodrick Stewart said he wasn't particularly nervous Saturday night in making the first start of his Kansas University basketball career.
Remember, the junior transfer opened 17 games his freshman year at University of Southern California.
"It was fun. I enjoyed it. I was just doing what I can to help the team," said Stewart, who played the first 31â2 minutes of KU's 80-69 victory over Rhode Island in place of Julian Wright, who came off the bench as a penalty for being late for Friday's practice.
Stewart, who helped KU to an early 11-4 lead, faced an interesting defensive assignment, to say the least. Listed as 6-foot-4 on the roster, KU's guard from Seattle was matched against 6-10 center Darrell Harris.
"I tried to make sure he didn't post me up and make me look real small," said Stewart, whose man outscored him 2-0 during the early going. "It was the same as guarding a guard. He came into the game a 50 percent shooter from three. He's doesn't like to post. He's a good player."
Stewart, who had one assist in six minutes, wasn't the only seldom-used KU perimeter player to garner some minutes. Junior Jeremy Case had an assist in 10 minutes.
"I don't want the ball to stick in my hands when I'm out there," said Case, who took just one shot. "I want to get it to the players who are going to shoot the most. I am definitely looking to move the ball to those guys, get the ball in their hands as much as possible."
Julian Wright scored 23 points, Brandon Rush 19 and Mario Chalmers 12 off combined 21-of-38 shooting.
Freshman Sherron Collins, who played 27 minutes in place of the flu-ridden Russell Robinson, had 13 points off 4-of-7 shooting.
"Sherron played great," Stewart said. "He's stepping up. His confidence is sky-high. It seems every time he steps on the court he gets more and more confidence, just being comfortable. It's showing now. He played great."
The Jayhawks (12-2), who don't play again until Sunday at South Carolina, allowed just 22 points the first half, but 47 the second.
KU did score 50 points the second half.
"We made shots, we moved the ball well, and offensively we looked good the second half," Case said. "But we let them score 40-something or 50-something points. That's uncalled for. We held them to 20 the first half. We shouldn't have let them score more than that the second. We slacked off a little bit defensively the second half."
KU coach Bill Self spoke to the team for 15 minutes after the contest about not putting away the Rams (7-7), who kept it close throughout.
"I felt we could have had more killer instinct," Case said. "When we were up by 15, we should have made it 15 more. We didn't do that. I'm glad we won."
"Any win is a good win," Stewart said. "It was a grind-it-out game. We could have done better on the offensive boards and defensive boards as a team. It was a good win, though."
Kansas was outrebounded by the Rams 43-42.
KU's opponent Sunday, South Carolina, has a 9-2 record entering Wednesday's home game against Western Carolina.
¢ Aldrich in Roundball: KU signee Cole Aldrich, a 6-11 senior from Jefferson High in Bloomington, Minn., has accepted an invitation to play in the Roundball Classic to be played in April in Chicago, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
¢ Self followed Bench: Several members of the Journal-World sports staff today on pages 1C and 8C discuss their favorite obscure sports figures of their youth.
Self, who grew up in Edmond, Okla., was willing to chime in, telling the J-W his hero was Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who played catcher for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to '83.
"I was a baseball player, and he was from Oklahoma," Self said of Bench, who was born and raised in Oklahoma City. "I stood in line to get his autograph and all that stuff."
Since Oklahoma City doesn't have a baseball team, Self made a special trip to California to watch Bench and the Big Red Machine.
"We went to San Diego when the Reds played there, and it was his day off. I was crushed," Self said. "All I saw him do was catch in between innings. He was my guy. Johnny Bench was my guy."
Self missed out on watching Bench play in person, but never missed a chance to view the strong-armed, power-hitting backstop on TV.
"That was back when you got the 'Game of the Week' - Tony Kubek and all that," Self said of a weekly MLB game on Saturday afternoons on NBC. "Back when it was the 'Game of the Week,' the Reds were on as much as anybody. It was a big thrill for me if they were playing."
Self said he had some other sports favorites: "In football back then it'd have to be Staubach. I was a Cowboys fan," Self said of Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach. "When I got older it was Larry Bird. I wasn't an NBA fan at all until Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Magic (Johnson) and Bird all got in the league. Then I became a huge fan."