November 28, 2010

Kansas drops Arizona for title

In the finale of the Las Vegas Invitational, No. 6 Kansas (6-0; 0-0) took on the Arizona Wildcats (5-1; 0-0). After leading by 16, the Wildcats came back, exchanging leads with the Jayhawks throughout the second half. Despite sitting in foul trouble, MVP if the tournament Marcus Morris played outstanding over the weekend to help his team to a perfect start to the season, KU also received a major boost from Travis Releford.

The first five games of the season were reasonable easy for Kansas, but heading into their match up against Arizona, no one really knew how the Jayhawks would react in a tight game.

In the beginning, it looked as though KU might be in line for another blowout win, but the offense from Zona forward Derrick Williams (27 points) and the three point shooting helped Arizona creep back to within five at the half.

"We just don't play smart, obviously at times, but we were so good early and when you make shots the tendency is to relax defensively and we did that. It was good for us to get behind in the second half and see what we're made of, but I think our guys responded pretty well," Bill Self said following his teams' victory.

"One of the keys to the game was their big guy [Derrick Williams] fouled out and ours didn't, but it was good, we won and we had to make big plays to do it. We played smart down the stretch, attacked the basket and got relatively easy shots. It was good but there are a lot of teaching tape we can watch on this."

At the 11:21 mark in the first half, KU led by 16 but was unable to widen the gap as the Wildcats stormed back.

Marcus Morris led the Jayhawks with 16 points despite only playing 25 minutes, giving him a total of 42 for the two days in Las Vegas. He also collected nine rebounds on the night, giving him an all-around solid performance and helping him earn the MVP honors.

"I thought I played well," Morris said. "I got into foul trouble early but I feel good about getting the MVP and I just played a couple of good games in the tournament."

Kansas found themselves in foul trouble with its big guys, leaving Self with no other option than to run some zone, and to use key reservesThomas Robinson, Mario Little and Travis Releford for significant minutes.

"I'm definitely proud of those guys. Thomas [Robinson] and Tyrel [Reed] made some nice plays down the stretch and hit big shots," Morris said about his teammates stepping up in his absence.

As the game wore on, the Jayhawks seemed to settle down from Arizona's momentum swing and eventually returned to pounding the ball inside the lane and using their athleticism and depth to overpower the Wildcats.

Derrick Williams found himself in foul trouble as well, giving KU the advantage in the low post.

Robinson, who had the highlight of the night after throwing down a one-handed dunk off a lob from Tyshawn Taylor, played extremely well once again and finished with 14 points. Releford, who has looked for his three-point shot much more often over the past several games, finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

"My strength coming into college was driving to the basket, but working on my jump shot was something I needed to do so I feel a lot of confidence in it," Releford said after the game.

The Morris twins made it evident that their impact on the game is a key for KU's success this season, but their teammates were able to hold down the fort while both of them sat and kept the game in control for the most part.

"We're much better when those two guys play and Marcus obviously played more than Kieff [Markeiff Morris] but I thought Thomas and Travis [Releford] were great," Self said after the game. "Those guys bailed us out down the stretch and Thomas had an unbelievable play on that lob. I don't know how he caught that and it wasn't a great pass but that was a big time play."

At times, Kansas can play sloppy and sped up, but overall, the Jayhawks look to be a top 5 worthy team and are now just three games away from the arrival of Josh Selby, who will give KU a more natural scoring point guard and allow Taylor to play off the ball.

Along with Marcus Morris, Travis Releford was named to the All-Tournament team and Kansas remains undefeated in games played as a part of the Las Vegas Invitational. Next up for Kansas is UCLA on Dec. 2 in Allen Fieldhouse.

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