High-fly­ing Jay­hawks look in­vin­ci­ble

Three over­whelm­ing wins boost Kansas’ NCAA stock.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Dave Skretta

Pur­due coach Matt KANSAS CITY, MO. — Painter stopped short of call­ing Kansas in­vin­ci­ble Thurs­day night. Not by much. Af­ter watch­ing the top-seeded Jay­hawks run roughshod over his over­matched Boil­er­mak­ers in the Mid­west Re­gional semi­fi­nals, Painter was asked whether any­body can stop Kansas — which has won its first three NCAA Tour­na­ment games by an av­er­age of 30 points.

He hemmed and hawed a bit, and Painter warned the rest of the field to keep the Jay­hawks from get­ting into tran­si­tion. Then he con­ceded: “If they keep get­ting those types of op­por­tu­ni­ties and shoot like that,

they can’t be stopped.” Ore­gon will try to keep Kansas from the Fi­nal Four.

The Jay­hawks’ 98-66 vic­tory over the Boil­er­mak­ers was led by 26 points apiece from their dy­namic back­court of Frank Ma­son III and Devonte’ Gra­ham, and buoyed by a bois­ter­ous crowd packed in­side the Sprint Cen­ter — a mere 40-minute drive from their cam­pus in Lawrence.

It was the fourth-big­gest blowout in Sweet 16 his­tory, dat­ing to 1975. It was the third straight game Kansas has scored at least 90 points, the first team to ac­com­plish the feat in the NCAA Tour­na­ment since UConn in 1995. And it was the most com­pre­hen­sive per­for­mance of the year for

the Jay­hawks when judged by none other than their hardto-please coach, Bill Self.

“The sec­ond half,” he said, “was about as com­plete as we’ve played.”

So, the ques­tion re­mains: Are there any places where the Jay­hawks are vul­ner­a­ble?

Per­haps their in­te­rior depth.

Fresh­man cen­ter Udoka Azubuike was lost early in the sea­son to a wrist in­jury, trim­ming Self ’s ro­ta­tion to seven guys. And when start­ing cen­ter Lan­den Lu­cas has been in foul trou­ble, op­po­nents have been able to at­tack back­ups Carl­ton Bragg Jr. and Dwight Coleby with a bit more suc­cess.

But even Coleby has played well dur­ing the NCAA Tour­na­ment — who from the Jay­hawks hasn’t? — and that’s given Self and ev­ery­one else on the Kansas bench more con­fi­dence.

Be­sides, 6-foot-8 fresh­man guard Josh Jack­son is ath­letic enough to match up with any­one, as ev­i­denced by the de­fen­sive job he did on Pur­due cen­ter Caleb Swani­gan.

Ev­ery­one thought the Boil­er­mak­ers would be able to lean on Swani­gan and 7-2 Isaac Haas to cre­ate a mis­match prob­lem for Kansas. But the Jay­hawks, with their four-guard lineup, brashly turned up the tempo, wore the big men down and rolled right on through to the Elite Eight.

“When the game is mov­ing so fast, it’s hard to take ad­van­tage of size op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Swani­gan said. “They played well and we lost all the non-ne­go­tiables: We had more turnovers. They won the re­bound­ing and freethrow war. Can’t win the

‘This stretch, yeah, I think this is the best we’ve played all sea­son. But I think we can get a lot bet­ter. I think there’s an­other step we can take.’ Josh Jack­son Kansas fresh­man stand­out

game like that.”

So if size doesn’t seem to mat­ter much against Kansas, maybe an­other guard-ori­ented team such as Ore­gon stands a bet­ter chance. The third-seeded Ducks beat Michi­gan on Thurs­day night to earn a date with the Jay­hawks on Satur­day night for a spot in the Fi­nal Four.

In­deed, teams Kansas has strug­gled against have gen­er­ally mir­rored their own — In­di­ana in an over­time loss to start the sea­son, and West Vir­ginia and Iowa State in Big 12 play. All of them have tal­ented back­courts and enough ath­leti­cism to keep pace with the high-fly­ing Jay­hawks.

That was even the case when TCU stunned Kansas in the Big 12 Tour­na­ment, though that comes with a sig­nif­i­cant as­ter­isk. Jack­son was serv­ing a one-game sus­pen­sion for a se­ries of le­gal is­sues.

“This stretch, yeah, I think this is the best we’ve played all sea­son,” the stand­out fresh­man said Thurs­day night, in a quiet cor­ner of an oth­er­wise bois­ter­ous locker room. “But I think we can get a lot bet­ter. I think there’s an­other step we can take.”

Good luck, Ore­gon. You’ve got next.

JAMIE SQUIRE / GETTY IM­AGES

Josh Jack­son (left) and Devonte’ Gra­ham haven’t faced many chal­lenges in Kansas’ three NCAA wins. The Jay­hawks’ av­er­age vic­tory mar­gin is 30 points.

RICH SUGG / TNS

Kansas guard Lager­ald Vick dunks dur­ing the Jay­hawks’ rout of Pur­due on Thurs­day night — at 32 points, the fourth-largest blowout in Sweet 16 his­tory.

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