A tough conference opponent threw in amazing shots and teetered on the brink of a streak-busting upset when the best player in college basketball gathered his team in the huddle and restored the confidence of all his mates.
Nobody ever will hear Kansas senior guard Sherron Collins, the nation’s best player, tell anybody he doesn’t know his role.
His coach stated his leader’s role quite nicely after an 81-75 Wednesday night victory against Baylor. Not that Collins wasn’t born knowing it. His role is to do whatever it takes on a given night to lead his team to victory. On this night, that meant getting the big men off to a nice start by penetrating the gaps of a 2-3 zone by using great feel, a great handle and spectacular passing. It meant taking over a close game late by burying three-pointers, driving the baseline hard for a bucket over the giants and delivering a bounce pass to Marcus Morris inside from an unconventional angle for a bucket.
It meant gathering his teammates and saying words that let the air out of the pressure bubble.
“He got us in the huddle and said, ‘I got it. Just go with me.’ When he (points at his chest), we all know what that means,” Marcus Morris said.
Baylor did everything it could to stop KU’s 52-game homecourt winning streak, and Collins didn’t let it happen.
“Sherron’s cold-blooded,” Marcus Morris said. “He steps up and makes big shot after big shot, and the amazing thing is he does it every game. I don’t think there’s a better player in the country.”
Collins is part savage heavyweight boxer, smelling blood when he senses he has a foe on the ropes, delivering the knockout punch and then sneering at the crowd, exhorting it to get louder, louder, louder. And he’s part symphony conductor, doing everything with such precision, burying NBA-distance three-pointers and handling the ball with such care at high speeds. For a player who conducts a wire-to-wire high-speed chase, forever in pursuit of another victory, file turnovers under the cost-of-doing-business heading. Yet, for 38 minutes, Collins had the game on a string and never fumbled it. He needed just 16 field-goal attempts and six free-throw attempts to score 28 points, and he had four assists, two steals and not a single turnover.
His once-wild, always-effective game now features the sort of refinement that only comes with a blend of experience and an instinctive feel for the game. No matter the defense, he’s so hard to guard, even more so using a zone.
“You can tell if a player knows how to play by watching him play against a zone better than you can by watching him play against man-to-man,” KU coach Bill Self said. “... Usually it’s the most experienced guys who play well against a zone.”
Collins has perfected the art of using emotion to the team’s gain. He seized on Baylor coach Scott Drew’s decision to take his team off the court during the pregame video. The move didn’t sit well with Collins, teammates and coaches. They considered it disrespectful. Maybe so, but it was also smart. Visiting players tend to watch it, and it intimidates some of them. The Bears didn’t play with fear. They lost because they didn’t have Collins playing for them.