Hush, haters: Jayhawks prove they mean business in NCAA tourney opener

OMAHA, Neb.

Kansas’ Jayhawks didn’t come here just to be seen.

Apparently, they came to be heard.

With Kentucky looming in their region and maybe a tussle with Wichita State in the third round before that, some faithful wondered how badly KU wanted to be in this Big Dance.

The favorites answered that question in a big way Friday.

KU, the second seed in the Midwest, got its feet on the throat of 15th-seeded New Mexico State early at CenturyLink Center and never let up, rolling to a 75-56 victory in the second round of the 2015 NCAA tournament.

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It played out like a 2-vs.-15, Big 12-vs.-Western Athletic Conference matchup, a change in normalcy after a slew of the Jayhawks’ league brethren — 3 seeds Iowa State and Baylor — were upset by double-digit seeds the day before. KU outrebounded the Aggies, 36-29, and limited New Mexico State to 35.7 percent shooting (20 for 56) from the floor.

On the whole, the Jayhawks appeared too tall — post men Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor combined to score 15 points and grab 14 boards — and too quick for the WAC representatives, whose zone was surgically pierced by Jayhawks guard Frank Mason (17 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and shot over by off-guards Devonte’ Graham (two of two on treys), Kelly Oubre (two of three) and Brannen Greene (two of four).

KU, which had come to rely on treys during conference play until a cold spell in the weeks leading up to the NCAA tourney raised doubts (and, in some cases, panic), drained nine of its 13 attempts from beyond the arc. The last dagger, from Mason’s hands, pushed KU’s lead to 23 — 68-45, its largest of the afternoon — with 5:48 left in the contest.

"It was very nice to see the ball go in the basket," Mason said. "It gave us confidence as the game went on."

Clearly, the Jayhawks had practiced against the Aggies’ unusual, extended zone defensive looks. A lot.

The chess match unfolded in earnest after Oubre’s trey at the top of the arc capped an 11-3 KU run that got the 2 seed out to a 15-7 lead. The Aggies worked in a box-and-one look with seven minutes left, down eight, trying to mix it up.

Every gambit, though, brought on an even stronger counterpunch. When the Jayhawks weren’t passing to gaps in the zone along the perimeter, they were feeding it to the post for lobs in the paint. Meanwhile, Graham came off the pine to drop back-to-back treys over a span of about 59 seconds, extending the KU lead to 29-16, then 32-16 with four minutes left until halftime.

The intense, pesky KU defense that the Jayhawks flashed in Kansas City during the Big 12 tourney returned in earnest; the Aggies whiffed on 14 of their first 20 shots and 17 of their first 26.

The boxing out returned, too. The Big Dance tends to punish teams that can’t get second shots, don’t prevent second shots and miss a ton of treys. (See Cyclones, Iowa State.) The Jayhawks outboarded New Mexico State by four at the break (18-14) and collected 14 defensive rebounds over the first 20 minutes to four offensive boards for the 15 seed.

Second-chance points for the Aggies: zero in the first half, nine for the afternoon. KU racked up three and 15, respectively.

Which said a lot about the KU mindset, the one even oddsmakers had a hard time pegging before the contest. TeamRankings.com tagged the Jayhawks with the second-lowest opening point-spread margin (9.5 points) of any 2 seed in the NCAA tourney since 2006.

So KU dances on, and one big question in Omaha got answered. As of early afternoon, another big one remained: Will the Shockers be joining them?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.