Releford adds scoring punch for Jayhawks
Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are getting some help in Kansas' quest for an eighth consecutive Big 12 title.
Travis Releford, a 6-foot-6 swingman for the Jayhawks, set career numbers in back-to-back games: Against Kansas State on Jan. 4, he scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. On Saturday against Oklahoma, he scored 28.
Releford said the last time he scored that many points was in high school.
Coach Bill Self said Releford has practiced well and been aggressive. He just wants him to do the same thing in games.
"I think he's worrying about things you can't control every night," Self said. "You can control your energy, your loose balls and your defense - you can control that - and when you worry about the right things, it seems like to me, you naturally score more. I think that's what's happening. He's scoring more, not worrying about scoring."
Releford was scoring 8.2 points per game in nonconference play, but has raised that to 10.1 against the two Big 12 foes so far. Releford said he doesn't go into games thinking he needs to score points to win. He sees Taylor, Robinson and Elijah Johnson as the players who need to score for the team to win.
His goal is to play sound defense while trying to stop the other team's best wing player.
"If I have to guard down low a little bit, that is what I come into the game to do," Releford said. "Scoring just happened. My teammates found me in the right spots. With their scoring abilities, it opens up a lot for me, so I really don't have to do much. I'm just playing off of how they play."
Self said Releford will never be a player who scores 20 points every game. But he is explosive, an energy player who scores by making simple plays and seems to have found a way to play to his strengths.
"That is where he's is playing right now," Self said. "He is playing the way he wants to play, which is the way we want him to play, too. He is not going to be a scorer over a defender, though. He has to keep doing what he is doing defensively because I think he is doing a nice job."
Robinson said Releford's play has taken some pressure off of him, with defenses shifting to his teammate. Releford has attempted 10 or more shots in the last three games, something he hadn't done all season. In those three games, he's shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
Self said other teams can't dare him to shoot.
"I don't think that's the way opponents look at him at all," Self said. "I like it when it leaves his hands. I think he's a shot maker. He probably needs to shoot a few more 3s, to be honest with you, moving forward if he continues to be confident like this."
Releford's recent success hasn't come without waiting. He was redshirted his second season, joining Conner Teahan and Jeff Withey.
"If we needed those guys immediately we wouldn't have done that," Self said. "Coaches get a lot of credit sometimes when players get better. The biggest reason why players get better is they want to get better."
Self likes the maturity he sees in Releford.
"You're taking kids who maybe aren't ready mentally, physically or emotionally where they need to be and you're substituting that year for the year that you do play," Self said. "In Travis' case he was 20 and now he's 22, so that's the biggest thing. Same thing with Ben (McLemore) and Jamari (Traylor), too. Even though we don't like that, them getting a redshirt year should help them, too."
The Jayhawks (12-3, 2-0 Big 12) play at Texas Tech (7-7, 0-2) on Wednesday night.