Blowout memorable for several reasons
In a building packed with so much history, so many banners and so much talent running on the hardwood through the years, calling a game played in Allen Fieldhouse a memorable one requires meeting a mighty lofty standard.
Kansas University’s 90-66 blowout victory Saturday night against overmatched in-state rival Kansas State won’t soon be forgotten by the 16,300 voices that erupted with extra volume every time Thomas Robinson made a contribution, and that was often.
Those fortunate enough to hold a ticket will remember the ovation they gave Robinson when he checked into the game. They’ll remember the even louder one when he checked out after a tremendous 17-point, nine-rebound performance two days after his mother’s funeral in Washington, D.C., attended by his teammates and the coaching staff.
They’ll remember looking at the video of Robinson getting hugs and words of encouragement from each K-State player in the postgame hand-shake line. They’ll remember feeling good that Robinson had cause to smile in the wake of the unspeakable tragedy of losing, in rapid succession, his grandmother, grandfather and mother.
Not a hint of travel-weariness was evident for a team long on air miles and short on sleep in recent days. On the contrary, Kansas was sharp in the ways it always is when on its game.
“I’ve always said that Bill (Self’s) teams play as hard and as united as any team in the country,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “That is a credit to Bill and his staff.”
Robinson’s tragedy has brought to a national stage something evident to those who pay to watch the team play since early in the season: The players on this Kansas team like each other, like playing basketball with each other and like hanging out together. Coaches can set an environment to try to foster such feelings, but if they don’t recruit the right fits into a program, the mix can go sour. Nobody has illustrated that better this season than Kansas State, foolishly picked by the Big 12 coaches to win the league title. Dominique Sutton quit during the offseason, Freddy Asprilla bolted during the season.
The Wildcats (14-8 overall, 2-5 in the Big 12), who have fallen so far, so fast after a spirited sprint to the Elite Eight last March, never came close to making it a game Saturday.
Without last season’s jet of a backcourt running mate Denis Clemente around this season, so much has fallen upon senior Jacob Pullen. Kansas junior Tyshawn Taylor fulfilled his pregame goal of using his length to bother Pullen into taking difficult shots. Showing why he is a better NBA prospect than Pullen, Taylor frustrated Pullen into 2-for-10 first-half shooting. Pullen finished with 21 points, but many of those were scored when Taylor (13 points, two assists, one turnover and two steals) watched from the bench.
Taylor noted Friday that because he had never lost to Kansas State, he didn’t know how much of a rivalry it was, words similar to those expressed by Martin’s former boss Bob Huggins when he took the job at K-State. (Huggins said it wouldn’t become a rivalry until K-State started winning more games.) Taylor broke the No. 1 interview rule by giving the opposition bulletin-board material, then contributed greatly to the game not feeling more like a massive mismatch than a rivalry. Things went even better for Kansas on the block than on the perimeter.
K-State’s Curtis Kelly, who according to Pullen did not have a good week of practice, was a virtual no-show, didn’t score in 10 minutes of action and spent the entire second half on the bench. Remember when the Morris twins used to have games where they just didn’t look into it? They were freshmen then. Kelly’s a senior.
The twins didn’t play to their size often back then. They do now. Markieff never looked taller than he did Saturday, when he hit the boards hard, defended with passion, dove for loose balls, hit a beauty of a hook shot and finished the night with 20 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. He played like an all-conference center on a night Kelly played like a bewildered freshman. Pullen even commented on how the Morris twins do so much better a job of posting up low than the Kansas State post players, seldom allowed to establish position near the bucket because of the efforts of Robinson and the twins.
It not only turned into such a memorable night for human reasons, it qualified as an important one for basketball reasons for Kansas. The Jayhawks not only have conducted themselves in a mature manner during these days of blossoming from boys into men, they showed they have made progress as a basketball team. Then again, those two areas of growth tend to go hand in hand.