KANSAS CITY, MO. – Portland, Cleveland State and Florida International might be solid mid-majors, but Kansas is the biggest of big leagues.
So, Washington’s pairing against the defending national champion Jayhawks offered the Huskies a chance to step up in class and measure themselves against a school that came into this College Basketball Experience Classic with five national titles, 13 Final Fours, 51 conference regular-season conference titles and the third-most victories in Division I history: 1,945.
Make that 1,946 now, as 22nd-ranked Kansas mauled Washington, 73-54, on Monday before a crowd of 14,720 in Sprint Center.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar said the game helped him learn about his team, and that he even saw some hope through the smoke of the wreckage.
“I feel that we are better defensively than we were a year ago,” he said. “I think once we learn to share the basketball and take care of the basketball, I really like the direction of our team. In spite of what happened (Monday), I like the direction of our team. And those are things that can be fixed.”
On Monday, the main things that needed to be fixed were a 29.2 shooting percentage and a floor game that produced 15 turnovers but only eight assists.
Romar believes that the first number will improve when the second and third numbers do.
“We’ve got to do a better job of knocking shots down,” he said. “But I’m going to tell you something: When you have your feet set and it’s not a quick shot, you will shoot a higher percentage. I just don’t think we’re taking quality shots. I think we’re rushing shots because we’re not making the extra pass enough.”
Kansas mixed man defense with lots of zone designed to smother UW star forward Jon Brockman. UW couldn’t shoot over it, and when the Huskies tried to take the ball to the hole, they got swatted: Kansas had 10 blocked shots.
Offensively, four Jayhawks scored in double figures, led by guard Sherron Collins with 18. Kansas hit half of its shots, with several of those uncontested layups as those blocked shots were rushed to the other end.
None was more significant that the block of an Isaiah Thomas drive in the closing seconds of the first half. The Huskies were running the clock down for a single shot that could have cut the lead to six. Instead, Thomas’ shot was blocked near the basket, the Huskies’ defense wasn’t back to cover, and the Jayhawks sped upcourt to score at the buzzer and head into the locker room energized and up by 10.
“It’s college, it’s another level,” Thomas said. “They’re going to be bigger, strong, faster, so there’s always a difference when you step it up a level.”
Washington made no serious runs in the second half. Late – way too late – the Huskies found their stroke. Elston Turner hit three late three-pointers. Thomas added another. But it was nothing to excite the crowd of 14,720 or scare all the blue-shirted Kansas fans.
Thomas led the Huskies with 17 points. Jon Brockman had 18 rebounds, but was limited to a season-low seven points, hitting two of nine from the field.
“If we were playing man-to-man he would have got some points,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “That was in large part the zone. But our traps on the post weren’t bad. But he’s a good player, and he’s a beast on the glass. I think (Cole Aldrich’s) length and (Markieff Morris’s) length may have played a factor of him not shooting a great percentage.”
The loss sends UW (2-2) into the CBE consolation game against Florida (3-1) at 4:45 p.m. today. The Gators lost to Syracuse in the opening game Monday, 89-83.
“It’s one of the reasons you have a non-conference schedule, so when you play in this type of tournament against this type of competition you kind of learn where you are and you can go back and work on it and get better at it,” Romar said. “And that’s what we plan to do.”
Kansas (3-0) and Syracuse (4-0) will meet for the CBE Classic title at 7 p.m.
GAME IN REVIEW
NO. 22 KANSAS 73, WASHINGTON 54
Star of the game: Kansas 6-foot-11 center Cole Aldrich contributed all across the stat box with 16 points, nine rebounds, six blocked shots, two assists and a steal. He also contributed to holding UW forward Jon Brockman to a season-low seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Key stats: Kansas shot 50 percent from the field and limited UW to 29 percent. Washington had 15 turnovers and only eight assists. The Huskies’ free- throw problem continued, as they made nine of 16 (56 percent). Kansas had outrebounded its first two opponents by an average of 11 boards, but UW dominated 43-34 Monday.
Key run: The Huskies were down by eight and playing for the last shot of the first half to cut it to six. However, an Isaiah Thomas shot was blocked as he drove the lane and Kansas broke down court with Tyshawn Taylor scoring at the buzzer to put the Jayhawks ahead, 32-22.
Observations: Washington fell to 1-8 against Kansas. ... UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning got his first playing time after missing the first three games with leg injuries. He had four points and three rebounds in 10 minutes. ... Washington’s shooting percentage was its lowest since hitting 28.8 percent in a loss to Stanford last season. ... The Jayhawks moved to 190-74 in Kansas City and 6-0 in Sprint Center. KU has won 28 straight regular-season games in Kansas City. Kansas also moved to 7-0 on games played on Nov. 24. ... Thomas shot an early airball and the Kansas student section stayed on him much of the night.
Today: The Huskies meet Florida in a consolation game at 4:45 p.m. on ESPNU.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune