After playing 10 games in 29 days — six on the road, with an unexpected two-day trip to Washington, D.C., also thrown into the wintry mix — Kansas University’s basketball players can finally exhale.
“I mean, I feel good. We just beat Missouri and get the next day off,” KU senior Mario Little said after Monday’s 103-86 home victory over the Tigers.
The Jayhawks (23-1, 8-1), who won nine of those 10 games, certainly distinguished themselves on the court during that brutal stretch.
It’s one in which some games were played without the injured Travis Releford and Josh Selby, as well as grief-stricken Thomas Robinson, whose mom, Lisa, died on Jan. 21, back in D.C.
“I believe you don’t become a team until you go through some stuff,” said coach Bill Self, happy to report the 2010-11 Jayhawks meshed into a true team over the past four weeks.
“Some teams go through a lot. Some teams don’t go through quite as much. This year’s team has been through more, certainly off the court. I think we are closer than we have ever been. I think we like each other a lot. I think we genuinely care for each other. I think at this point of the season, we’ve been through enough I can say we have kind of become a team.
“Hopefully we are not close to the team we can become, but I think we are much further along than we were three to four weeks ago,” he added.
The Jayhawks appear to have great chemistry on the court, evidenced by 23 assists on their 37 baskets versus Mizzou.
“I think they (Jayhawks) are balanced and they share the ball. I really like our unselfishness and guys are really starting to find their roles,” Self said. “Look at what Brady (Morningstar) has done the last two weeks. He can make a shot or be a ball-mover. He gives other guys a chance to make plays. Certainly he’s played great.”
Senior guard Morningstar scored eight points with seven assists and no turnovers against Missouri just two days after scoring 19 points with six assists and no turnovers at Nebraska.
Morningstar has started the last two games in place of frosh guard Selby (stress reaction, right foot), who figures to be back for Saturday’s 3 p.m. home game versus Iowa State.
“We were pretty good offensively at Colorado and Josh was a big reason why,” Self said of Selby, who had 17 points and five assists versus the Buffs.
“We were pretty good offensively against K-State and Josh was a big reason why (12 points, four assists). I do think from Josh’s standpoint, when you are over there watching (from bench), you see the ball is moving. We’ve got to get to when he is in the game, the ball moves like that and he’s able to take advantage of a closeout and things like that, which I think he is starting to get.
“I don’t think he’ll be anything but helpful as we move forward and he gets healthy, which I don’t think is far away. When we run bad offense, Josh is still the best we’ve got at getting his own shot and every team needs somebody like that,” Self said.
As far as the defensive end ... Mizzou did torch the Jayhawks for 86 points off 51.7 percent shooting.
“Nationally according to Kenpom (kenpom.com) ... I don’t buy into all those things (but) as of last night we were second most effective defense in the country,” Self said. “I don’t see it that way overall. I see it as an area we need to get better in.
“We go through phases in games where we really guard and phases in games we get pretty lackadaisical. If I was going to identify three areas (for improvement) ... taking care of the ball would obviously be one; our rebounding could become better even though we’ve done a decent job; and our halfcourt defense can become better even though we are not bad. Those areas I definitely think need to be addressed and given attention.”
Junior Marcus Morris agrees the defense needs work.
“What did they score? 86? That’s a lot for somebody to come in your house and score 86. That’s not a good job,” Morris said. “We’ve got to keep getting better on defense. Our offense is getting better.”
Believe it or not
KU scored 1.45 points per possession versus MU on Monday night, its highest total of the season against any team. Jesse Newell in his blog on KUsports.com reports that this was the most points scored per possession against the Tigers in any game of the last 15 years. Only one opponent during that time had even topped 1.40 points per possession, and that was KU in the 2001-02 season (1.42). The highest any other team has scored against Missouri in the past 15 years was Texas A&M; in 2004-05 (1.38 PPP).
What’s more, in the second half, KU scored 1.67 PPP off 34 possessions. No Div. I team has scored 1.67 PPP in a game all season — not even against an opponent from a lower division. Newell’s numbers indicate that KU’s offense right now may be better than any Jayhawk offense in the last 15 years during conference play.