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February 23, 2007
Down to the wire
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Sixth-ranked Kansas (24-4, 11-2) rolled into Manhattan, Kan., Monday night for game two of the Sunflower Showdown against state-rival Kansas State (19-9, 8-5). Despite Bob Huggins' promise to end 'The Streak', the Jayhawks came away with their twenty-fourth straight victory at KSU. Freshman guard Sherron Collins led the way with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. With three games left in the regular season, KU is focused for the final stretch.
It wasn't quite the 27-point blowout that took place two weeks ago, but the end result was the same; another game in the Sunflower Showdown, another win for the Jayhawks.
After the Wildcats led by one at the half, KU came out with a focus and intensity that would eventually put the 'Cats away for good.
In a game where Brandon Rush, KU's leading scorer, struggled on the offensive end, freshman star Collins, Darrell Arthur, and sophomore guard Mario Chalmers stepped up to lead the Jayhawks in a tough, hard-fought battle.
Rush, who averages just over 14 points per game, finished with 11 on 3-of-9 shooting and 5-of-9 from the foul line. The biggest reason for Rush's struggles was his early foul trouble.
After picking up his second, head coach Bill Self sat Rush down for a long stretch in the first half. As the game tightened up, Self opted to insert Rush back into the lineup. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward picked up a cheap third foul and had to sit once again.
Despite Rush's struggles, his play in the last six minutes of the game, as well as the play of his teammates, was enough for the Jayhawks to claim their twenty-fourth straight win in Manhattan.
For the Jayhawks, their focus as a team is evident by their solid play both home and away. Despite the loss to Texas A&M, Kansas has played incredible basketball since the contest at Texas Tech.
Compare this group now, to the team that played in November, and it's obvious they are a completely different squad. Just as they did last season, the Jayhawks have focused their game during the second half of the season to make a strong push towards March.
With three games left, KU has put themselves in position to win another conference championship, as well as one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
The same inconsistencies that hurt KU early this season, for the most part have been corrected, and offensively, Kansas has found the balance they need to succeed in March.
For the opposition, its pick your poison when playing the Jayhawks, as Self doesn't rely on just one or two players. The Jayhawks have six or seven players that can put up big numbers on any given night.
Youth is not an issue at this stage, especially considering Collins and Arthur have played beyond their years for the majority of the 2006-07 campaign.
With games against Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas still ahead of the Jayhawks, the same focus and intensity that has brought them to this point, will need to hold up for KU to bring home yet another conference title.
When looking at the top 10 teams in the country, only Florida and Kansas have five players averaging double digit scoring per game. That type of balance should give teams like the Gators and Jayhawks, an edge in tournament play as teams will only have one day to scout each other.
For Kansas, should they take care of business over the next 10 days; KU will be looking at a 27-4 record heading into the conference tournament, likely as the No. 2 seed behind Texas A&M (assuming the Aggies win out).
Thursday's news of junior guard Russell Robinson spraining a foot in practice will prove to be a good test before tournament play starts, as the Jayhawks may miss Robinson until the regular season finale against Texas. The door is open for Collins to step in and start for Kansas, something many fans want to see, as Collins has been the most consistent Jayhawk for the past several weeks.
Robinson is the glue-guy for this team, but will have to serve as a leader from the sidelines instead of on the court, at least for Saturday's game against Iowa State.
As for now, Kansas continues to fly under the radar, which is something that may help the Jayhawks come tourney time.