Jayhawks get early-season test from Memphis

BY foxsports • November 18, 2009

The opening win wasn't much of a gauge. Kansas launched shots over Hofstra's packed-in zone and won by 36 despite poor rebounding and playing the kind of defense that turned coach Bill Self's face ever-brighter shades of red. That hold-your-breath win over Memphis? Now, that was a test. Sloppy on offense, much better on defense, No. 1 Kansas earned a hard-fought win over the scrappy Tigers on Tuesday night in a rematch of the 2008 NCAA title game. It was ugly at times, probably tougher than it should have been. It also might just be the jolt the Jayhawks need to keep all that preseason hype from going to their heads. "It was a great game for us to play early in the season," Self said. "Hopefully, it'll be a good teaching tool for us." Defensively, Kansas took a step forward. All those layups Hofstra got after made baskets and the open 3-pointers weren't as available to Memphis. The Jayhawks got back on the break and blanketed the Tigers' shooters, holding them to 6 for 25 from 3-point range, 34 percent overall. Rebounding was better, too. Kansas had an 11-rebound advantage over Memphis after giving up 17 offensive boards to the much-smaller Pride. OK, now for the offense. The Jayhawks made it look easy against Hofstra, scoring inside, outside, almost wherever they wanted. Memphis gave Kansas a taste of the in-your-grill, man-to-man defense they'll face in the Big 12 and the postseason, making the Jayhawks work for every shot, every possession. Caught up in Memphis' pressure, the Jayhawks played quickly, even recklessly, throwing passes that had no chance of being completed and dribbling into trouble. Kansas had 21 turnovers, leading to 15 points for Memphis in a tight game. "We played stupid, didn't finish plays," senior guard Sherron Collins said. "We have to be more focused." A bigger issue is finding an offensive identity. Collins and center Cole Aldrich are the go-to guys. They're preseason All-Americans and won a national title together. The Memphis game showed they'll need help. Typically in tight games, the Jayhawks will clear the floor and isolate Collins, give him room to hit a big shot or draw in the defense to set up an open teammate. Collins wasn't much of a factor against Memphis, with leg cramps sending him to the bench and limiting his mobility when he was out there. Kansas had trouble finding someone else to turn to. Aldrich was dominant - when he got the ball. The junior had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. A good night, but it could have been better. And Self wanted it to be better. He implored the Jayhawks to get the ball to Aldrich in the post, only to watch one possession after another die with one pass and a shot or a turnover. "We don't really understand yet how we're going to score or where to score from or where our shots are coming from," Self said. "We have individuals who are really good players. We'll be so much better when the ball moves. That's very correctable, I think." The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, did their best to help out, getting some big points and playing solid defense in the post. No one else did much of anything. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor got caught up in Memphis' frenetic style and played out of control at times, turning it over seven times and missing all four of his shots. His backup, freshman Elijah Johnson, had three turnovers, no shots and several tongue-lashings from Self in seven minutes. Freshman phenom Xavier Henry got a hard lesson in man-to-man defense from the Tigers. He hit five 3-pointers and scored 27 points against Hofstra, mostly by shooting over the top of the Pride's zone. Memphis had extra incentive to go after Henry - he spurned the Tigers after coach John Calipari left - and hounded his every step. Henry seemed to get caught up in facing his one-time suitor, forcing up numerous difficult shots in finishing 3 for 11 with four turnovers. Despite all those preseason proclamations of greatness, it seems Kansas, like everyone else, still has some work to do. "It was only our second game of the season and we're still figuring out things," Henry said. "But at least we won."