Blame it on ’Rio: Visiting Mario Chalmers inspires Brady Morningstar in victory over Colorado

Kansas forward Markieff Morris turns for a bucket and a foul from Colorado forward Andre Roberson during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Mario Chalmers, who is spending the NBA All-Star break in Lawrence, stopped by buddy Brady Morningstar’s apartment Friday night.

Chalmers, the third-year Miami Heat combo guard who hit the biggest shot in Kansas University basketball history, encouraged his former KU teammate to fire away during Saturday’s Big 12 Conference matinee against Colorado — one attended by NBA Jayhawks Chalmers, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry.

“I told Brady, ‘You’ve got to come out and dominate,”’ said Chalmers, who spent an hour and a half with his 2008 NCAA title teammate the day before KU’s 89-63 rout of the Buffs in Allen Fieldhouse.

Morningstar received the message loud and clear.

The 6-foot-4 senior from Lawrence hit four three-pointers in five tries and scored 16 points in the first half as KU blazed to a 48-31 lead. He missed his only shot of the second half, finishing with those 16 points to go with five assists, no turnovers, four rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.

“He (Chalmers) told me to go out and ‘ball’ … have fun and hit some shots,” Morningstar said after a game in which KU hit 11 of 22 three-pointers to CU’s two of 16. Tyrel Reed (13 points) and Tyshawn Taylor (10) each hit three of four threes, while inside player Markieff Morris exploded for a career-high 26 points and tied a career high with 15 rebounds.

“It felt good to hit some shots and was really good to see him,” Morningstar added of Chalmers, who was welcomed by coach Bill Self into the winner’s locker room with Collins, Aldrich and Henry.

“I asked the guys to tell the team what they thought. The first thing ‘Rio said (was), ‘Yeah, you guys are fun to watch, but you don’t guard anybody,”’ Self revealed.

“That was his way I think of telling the guys, ‘You’ve got a chance, but have got to improve on that end.’ Maybe we took a small step forward today, but it (defense) is still not where it needs to be.”

Chalmers’ challenge surely will be accepted by Morningstar, who, along with Taylor, Reed and Elijah Johnson, helped hold high-scoring Buff guards Alec Burks (15 points, 6-of-12 shooting) and Cory Higgins (14 points, 5-of-11 shooting) in check.

“I think me being on that (2008 NCAA title) team with Mario, I know what he is talking about and where he is coming from about playing defense, getting stops, forcing turnovers,” Morningstar said, “because that team was really good at doing that. We are not nearly as good as that. If he tells us, some people might understand it and believe it more than if a coach is saying it, because it’s somebody in their shoes who played here just a couple years ago.”

Chalmers conceded, “Our team (in ’08) was more a defensive team. This team wants to score points. (Overall) I thought the guys played excellent, came out with a lot of energy after the loss to K-State (84-68 on Monday in Manhattan).”

The Jayhawks, who Self said left Manhattan Monday “a mad team, an embarrassed team,” were in much better spirits Saturday.

“It was definitely more intense,” junior forward Marcus Morris (16 points, nine rebounds) said of practice this past week. “We had a conversation, had a team meeting, and everybody said everybody needed to do their part. It starts with one person. Everybody has to look in the mirror and see how they can make the team better. We need to get better on the defensive side, so we’re going really hard.”

The hard work Saturday — coupled with Nebraska’s 70-67 victory over Texas — leaves KU just one game behind the Longhorns in the league standings.

“It’s good for us,” Morningstar said, “but we control our own destiny now. We can’t worry about Texas losing. We already put ourselves in position we have to win the rest of our games and hope Colorado or somebody else can knock ’em (Longhorns) off in the next week or two. All we can do is keep winning games and see what happens from there.”

Noted Self: “Whether Texas wins or loses shouldn’t affect how we play or how we prepare (for Monday’s 8 p.m. home game versus Oklahoma State), but we’ve got life as far as the league race. We have to win out, but there is life to the point nobody is out of it yet. I am not going to lie. I am glad Nebraska won. It was a big win for Doc (Sadler, NU coach). They needed a signature win. We’ve got work to do. We need to worry about ourselves, not what everybody else is doing.”

— Assistant sports editor Gary Bedore can be reached at 832-7186.