LINCOLN, Neb. — Kansas guard Brady Morningstar is as unassuming as athletes come, the last guy who would try to teach anyone a lesson. But each time he rises for a three-pointer, flicks his wrist and the ball falls through the net, he’s proving to shooters everywhere that it pays to just keep shooting.
“Life is so much about confidence,” KU coach Bill Self said, “not just sports but everything. That basket looked like a thimble there for about two months. Now, it’s definitely opened up for him. He believes it’s going in, and that’s so much of it.”
Self rarely lacks for confidence in most endeavors, and his Kansas teams have experienced a trickle-down effect over the last eight years. Morningstar was shooting 23 percent from three this season through 19 games, and he had really not been the same player since Feb. 8 of last season, when he had a self-described “blooper” while shooting a free throw after a technical foul.
But Self encouraged Morningstar to continue firing away, and Morningstar’s 19 points and six assists in KU’s 86-66 victory over Nebraska on Saturday showed that belief is a powerful thing.
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He made 5 of 7 from three and has now made 11 of 18 (61 percent) in the last four games since heating up for the first time on Jan. 25 at Colorado.
“I missed so many,” Morningstar said. “Once you start making them, they come in bunches. I’m not jolly about myself. I’m supposed to be knocking down my shots. I guess you can say I’m just back to normal.”
In Morningstar’s mind, he was just doing his job on Saturday. He put in his work, making open shots and creating good looks for others, and the Jayhawks did theirs, outclassing Nebraska in their final game as conference opponents in the Bob Devaney Center. KU (22-1, 7-1 Big 12) handled an inferior team on the road like the No. 2 team in the land should — by steadily building a lead and then not letting go of it.
Kansas has now beaten Nebraska 17 straight times. This time, the Jayhawks simply got hot and never stopped, making 54 percent (13 of 24) of their threes and 56 percent (25 of 45) of their field goals.
KU guard Tyrel Reed made 3 of 6 from deep and had 14 points, and big man Markieff Morris swished three daggers from three-point land to finish with 17.
Even while playing without freshman guard Josh Selby, who missed Saturday’s game with a stress reaction in his right foot, the Jayhawks’ offense clicked. And they did it against a squad schooled by Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, whom Self respects as a defensive coach.
“That’s as good as we can execute,” Self said. “To score 80 points on a Doc-coached team in their building means you probably played pretty good offense. I think them and Texas are the best two defensive teams in the league I’ve seen so far.”
The Jayhawks did not gain a game on the Longhorns in the Big 12 standings, but they have certainly kept the pressure on Texas.
It’s only fitting that Morningstar’s resurgence happened after the Texas loss.
Nearly a year ago in Austin, Morningstar went to the free-throw line late in the game. As he moved his arms forward to shoot, the ball slipped out of his hands. He caught it in the air, lost his balance and then hurled it toward the hoop. The shot missed, and hours later it was documented on YouTube in slow-motion.
“That doesn’t happen to a lot of people,” Morningstar said. “But bloopers happen to a lot of people. I guess my slump started after that. Maybe I was thinking too much. I just look back at that and laugh.”
It’s a lot easier for him to laugh now. When Morningstar scored 14 points against Colorado last week, it was his first double-digit scoring game since Jan. 30, 2010.
“He’s playing like a point guard that can shoot the ball,” KU forward Marcus Morris said. “Tyshawn (Taylor) is our fast point guard. I think Brady is more our subtle point guard. He’s a smart player. He picks his spots. We’re just happy to have him back.”