TUCSON, Ariz. | The look on Cole Aldrich’s face said it all.
He had just been posterized by Arizona forward Chase Budinger, who jammed home a one-handed alley-oop that brought the McKale Center crowd to its feet. Aldrich had put his hand up in a futile attempt to stop Budinger, and that was enough for the officials to whistle him for his fourth foul of the game with 11 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game.
Aldrich walked back toward the KU bench, where he had spent too much of the night. He raised his hands in the air, a show of disbelief at his misfortune and that of the Jayhawks, who fell 84-67 on Tuesday night to an Arizona team with too much muscle. The Wildcats outrebounded KU 40-29.
“We had no low-post presence the whole game,” KU coach Bill Self said. “We gotta at least have somebody with a presence in there.”
This Christmas Eve Eve late night tussle was billed as the tangling of two future NBA big men, Aldrich and Arizona’s Jordan Hill. Aldrich proved to be the lesser of the two on this night, as Hill had 23 points and 11 rebounds to Aldrich’s 10 and four.
“He’s by far the best big guy we’ve faced all year,” Aldrich said. “I mean, he’s just so good.”
Aldrich was clearly in awe of Hill after the game. Aldrich said he just wasn’t himself.
“It was different,” Aldrich said. “It was a game that I’ve never really felt before. I had a lot of nerves before the game. It was the first road game. I just came out and didn’t play well. I guess I don’t have any words for it. It wasn’t pretty at all.”
Throw in 19 points and 13 rebounds from Arizona forward Jamelle Horne, and KU was simply outclassed in the paint out here in the desert.
Aldrich was outmanned by Hill from the start – Hill actually began the game by head-faking Aldrich and dunking.
“Defensively, we put up no resistance,” Self said. “That was about as bad a whipping as a five man has given a collection of five men that I’ve seen. He could get any shot any time he wanted to.”
Aldrich never got into the flow of the game because he took himself out of it after one minute with a foul 20 feet away from the basket, switching on a ball screen.
It was Aldrich’s first, but, given his propensity for picking up two early ones, KU coach Bill Self had no choice but to remove him from the game in hopes that he could come through later. Aldrich never did, and the Jayhawks let what was once a nine-point lead evaporate during a 12-0 Arizona run midway through the second half.
The game simply got away from KU, playing its first road game of the season. The Jayhawks, now 8-3, were called for 16 fouls in the second half compared to just eight for the Wildcats, also 8-3.
“That’s how it’s going to be on the road sometimes,” KU guard Brady Morningstar said. “You just gotta keep playing through it. I’m sure when we play at home sometimes we get a better whistle than the other team. That’s how it goes. We can’t complain about that.”
There were some positives to come out of this, though. Aldrich’s continued battle with suspect fouls gave twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris a chance to show what they can do together in the first half on Tuesday night.
When Aldrich picked up that first foul, Marcus Morris immediately came into the game, joining Markieff, who started. The duo then embarked on a performance that showed why KU coach Bill Self was so tickled last fall when the twins from Philadelphia chose Kansas.
Marcus Morris led the Jayhawks in the first half with 10 points on three-of-six shooting and went four-of-four from the free-throw line. Markieff added seven points, six rebounds and three assists. Markieff converted two dunks and was fouled going for a third, playing as aggressively as he has all season.
The twins’ best half couldn’t have come at a better time. Aldrich had one point, one rebound and one assist in 10 minutes. Aldrich wasn’t the only KU star who had a tough first half, though. Collins had three points on one-of-six shooting.
So much for the theory that the Kansas freshmen would be overwhelmed during their first road game. KU freshmen scored the first 14 points for the Jayhawks on Tuesday night, breaking the ice and leading KU to a 38-35 halftime lead. Tyshawn Taylor hit two early 3-pointers to get KU into rhythm.
“When Sherron and Cole combine for four points out of 38 on first road trip,” Self said, “I’m thinking the young kids are doing pretty good.”
Aldrich wasn’t the only star to struggle. Budinger was scoreless in the first half, missing all four of his attempts (he finished with five points).
Morningstar was able to stay with Budinger just as he did during the first half on Saturday against Temple’s Dionte Christmas. Morningstar also chipped in eight points in the first 20 minutes.
“Brady Morningstar played great,” Self said. “But after that, I don’t think I can go very far.”
Collins would finish with 16 points to lead KU, but he didn’t get enough help from his teammates inside.
“They wanted it more than we did,” Collins said. “They outrebounded us. They were tougher. We gotta get tougher. We’ve been preaching this all year. We haven’t gotten tougher yet. I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
The Jayhawks, particularly Aldrich, are leaving Tucson with a bad taste in their mouths for the holidays.“It puts a huge damper on it,” Aldrich said. “There’s not one thing that we’re happy with.”
To reach J. Brady McCollough, KU reporter for The Star, call 816-234-4363 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.