KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From a pure numbers point of view, it may be quite a while before you see Kansas play another half of basketball like the Jayhawks played on Monday night.
Its not that Kansas wont improve. (Its November; they will.) And its not that the Jayhawks wont play better competition than the Washington State team that fell victim to a 78-41 drubbing in the semifinals of the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.
But for a KU squad that had shifted gears between mechanical and sloppy for the better part of three games, perhaps it was just a little surprising the Jayhawks could slip into overdrive this quickly.
We knew we had to bring the energy, senior guard Travis Releford said.
This certainly had to be a little bit more like what Bill Self had in mind when he started dreaming up rotations during the summer months. For the better part of a week after the Jayhawks three-point loss to Michigan State and again after a slow start against Chattanooga last Thursday Self had spent much time talking about what his squad didnt do well. They didnt play fast enough. Needed to be tougher. Seniors needed to be leaders. Those kinds of things.
On Monday night at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks responded with their most complete performance of the season, taking a 50-21 halftime lead before cruising to a blowout victory in the final 20 minutes.
I thought we did a really good job moving the ball the first half, Self said. And, of course, we made shots. So everything looks better when you make shots. But we got the ball where we wanted it, and guys shared it.
The Jayhawks shot 64 percent as a team in the first half and played with the sort of the energy and flow that had been missing during the seasons first three games.
The Jayhawks ran the floor, knocked down jumpers, and kickstarted the early run with some full-court pressure. Releford, in a three-game shooting funk, busted out by making his first six shots and finishing with a team-high 17 points.
For a player that had begun the year by shooting just 26 percent (six for 23) from the field in three games a pretty good symbol for the rest of the KU offense actually it was an efficient performance that will do wonders in the confidence department. And it came in his own hometown.
It felt great, Releford said. Coming into this game, teammates and coaches, they continued to have faith in me in shooting the ball. And they just told me to stop thinking about it and continue being me.
You might say the same thing for the rest of the Jayhawks.
Senior forward Kevin Young made his first start of the season at the four-spot, providing the sort of glue guy that had been absent while he recovered from a broken bone in his hand. Young had played limited minutes in Kansas last two games. But hed also been sporting a padded glove on his right hand. On Monday, the glove came off. And Young pulled down 10 rebounds, making the sort of energy plays that became his trademark last season.
Hustle plays, Young said.
Senior center Jeff Withey continued to assert himself on defense, finishing with five blocks. But Self felt comfortable enough to rest Withey in the first half and play freshmen forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor.
Early on, freshman Ben McLemore picked up where he left off last Thursday against Chattanooga, scoring 10 points in the opening nine minutes. The stretch including two three-pointers and a putback dunk that claimed teammate Traylor as one of its casualties. Friendly fire, perhaps?
The Jayhawks took a 23-9 lead on McLemores dunk before extending the lead to 30-12 on a layup by Traylor. KU just had too much offense. Ellis added 12 points off the bench. And by late on Monday night, Self was emptying his bench. And the sparse crowd inside the Sprint Center began to move toward the exits.
The Jayhawks will play Saint Louis tonight in the CBE Classic final. And perhaps the competition will be a little stronger, the night not so smooth. But if the Jayhawks needed a game to find their early-season footing, they took a step forward in Kansas City.
We needed to come out here, and we needed to put points on the board, Young said. And (we needed) to stop the other team defensively. And thats what we did.