Final Four: Kansas test gets a test tonight
Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2008
By Eddie Pells
SAN ANTONIO ó Two statistics stood out in Kansas’ 84-66 victory over North Carolina in the national semifinals.
The Tar Heels shot a season-low 35.8 percent from the floor, and they had 18 turnovers, four more than their average.
Chalk those uncharacteristic numbers up to Kansas’ relentless defense, especially early in the game, when the Jayhawks seemed to be playing with six or seven defenders.
The trick for Kansas will be duplicating that effort against the speedy Memphis Tigers in tonight’s national championship.
“We will need to have our best defensive performance,” guard Russell Robinson said Sunday.
Kansas is perhaps best known for its balanced, up-tempo attack. But the Jayhawks also excel on defense.
Were it not for a big stop at the end of the regional final against Davidson, Kansas might not even be playing for its third NCAA title. Clinging to a 59-57 lead in the final seconds, the Jayhawks blanketed Stephen Curry, forcing him to give the ball up to a teammate who missed a hurried heave.
On Sunday, Kansas coach Bill Self wasn’t divulging how he’ll try to tame the Tigers, who average 80 points per game, 14th nationally. But Memphis coach John Calipari said his team will be ready for anything, even a zone.
“It doesn’t matter what they play,” Calipari said. “We want to attack. We’re going to try to attack the rim.”
The closer the shot, the higher the percentage. But Kansas makes it tough on opposing shooters.
Kansas ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to 37.9 percent shooting from the floor.
As North Carolina prepared for Kansas, coach Roy Williams told his team not to take quick shots, and they did. He also warned them about the Jayhawks’ relentless pressure on ballhandlers.
“We talked about that you have to be strong with the ball,” he said. “We let them take it away from us twice, just reach in and take our ball.
“Defensively, they’re marvelous athletes, they really are,” Williams said.
The Jayhawks concede 61.3 points per game, 20th in the country; they limited North Carolina to 66 points, matching its lowest total this season.
The Jayhawks block 6 shots per game, 12th in the country; Kansas blocked nine shots against North Carolina, tying a national semifinal record.
Two Jayhawks guards ó Robinson and Mario Chalmers ó rank in the top 50 nationally in steals.
Kansas used its defense to harry the Heels into one of their worst performances in recent memory, at least early on. At halftime, North Carolina had more turnovers (10) than buckets (9).
It’s probably not realistic to expect the same performance against Memphis. But that’s what the Jayhawks want.
“I think definitely defense is going to play a major role in this game,” Kansas center Sasha Kaun said. “We have to have transition defense, stopping them when they come down on the fast break. As long as we have great energy, we’ll be just fine.”
But Kansas spent a lot of energy Saturday night. Will the Jayhawks be able to recharge in time for the final, which tips off less than 48 hours later?
“Last night was hard, no doubt about that, but I’m not worried,” Kaun said. “We are going to relax today to get ready for this. That is the nice thing about knowing it’s the last game. There is no excuse to hold anything back.”
Brandon Rush is expected to guard red-hot Tigers guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who is averaging a team-high 23.6 points per game in the NCAA tournament. Rush also shadowed Curry in the Davidson game.
“I love being in that role, just trying to limit one of the star players,” said Rush, who scored a team-high 25 points Saturday night.
Douglas-Roberts isn’t Memphis’ only scoring threat. His backcourt partner, freshman Derrick Rose, is averaging 21.4 points per game in the tourney.
“We have to contain the two guards and not let them get going,” Robinson said. “We need to force them into tough shots and make them work for everything. If we do that, we will be successful.”