SAN ANTONIO -- The Kansas Jayhawks are not in this tournament to win the sportsmanship trophy. They’re not here to go along and get along. They’re not terribly interested in playing nice.
They made that perfectly clear before and during their Sweet 16 stomping of Richmond on Friday night, a 77-57 beating that was Kansas at its best. And cockiest. And most intimidating.
The Jayhawks shoved their way inside the Spiders’ heads more than 24 hours before the game and never left, not until the final horn sounded. When Kansas star forward Marcus Morris encountered a couple of Richmond players in the hallway between media interviews Thursday, he issued a verbal warning: “You better be ready.”
Then, while the Spiders were huddling in the tunnel before coming out onto the court for tipoff, the Jayhawks barged through. A shoving match ensued between the teams.
“We were trying to run out,” Kansas guard Josh Selby said. “They stood right there, and we just tried to run through it.”
“It got a little chippity,” Morris said. “We had a little battle to get out the tunnel first.”
Said Richmond’s Kevin Smith: “They tried to run through there, and they ran into some walls. It’s a man thing. Would you let a man walk through you? They thought they were playing with some boys with that one.”
No offense to Mr. Smith and the Spiders, but this was a men-against-boys game. Top-seeded Kansas had its way with the No. 12 seed, bursting out to a 31-9 lead and never giving any upset hopes a chance to grow in the Kansas-dominated Alamodome.
Given the way both teams started the game, it’s fair to wonder whether the pregame fracas had a motivational effect on Kansas and an unsettling effect on Richmond. The Spiders say it did not, but the Jayhawks generally disagreed.
Richmond point guard Kevin Anderson said the altercation was not an issue after tipoff but that “I never got my team settled down.”
If Richmond was unsettled, Kansas was unbridled.
“I think it might have been a little bit [of a motivator],” Kansas guard Brady Morningstar said.
The more you mix it up with the Jayhawks, the better they seem to do. Whatever chance there was that they wouldn’t start the game dialed in probably disappeared in that tunnel exchange.
“Maybe they didn’t think we were ready to go,” Morris surmised. “But the first 11 minutes were probably the best we’ve played all year.”
Kansas was indeed brilliant early. The Jayhawks moved the ball precisely and hit their perimeter shots. They extended their defense to disrupt Richmond’s rhythm and force it away from the basket. They predictably hammered the smaller Spiders on the glass. They were good in transition, good in the half court, good everywhere and in every way.
“They are truly a great team,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They were kind of able to dictate the game, unfortunately, in every way.”
Nobody played better early than Morningstar, who had 12 first-half points and finished with a team-high 18. The senior has a reputation as something of a provocateur. Marcus and twin brother Markieff Morris have been known to keep their elbows cocked and ready, whereas Morningstar is more apt to annoy opponents with his mouth.
He got under the skin of Texas’ Jordan Hamilton in Lawrence earlier this season, prompting Hamilton to cuss at him and draw a technical foul. This time, Morningstar and Smith got into it during one dead ball, and the officials brought both together for a lecture. Not long thereafter, Morningstar buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game and woofed at Smith. He was quickly hit with a T.
“Some kind of noise,” Smith said of whatever came out of Morningstar’s mouth. “He said it running away. ... You can put that in there if you want to.”
Said Morningstar: “I got ahead of myself, and I’m not good enough to run my mouth after I make a shot.”
Morningstar said something else funny postgame. Namely, that he couldn’t understand why Richmond might have been intimidated by the Jayhawks.
Take a look at the thick bodies and unsmiling faces in your own locker room, Brady. If the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson (12 points and 14 rebounds Friday) aren’t a bit scary to look at, nobody is in college basketball.
Richmond was going to be up against it in this game no matter what. But after all the pregame posturing, the Spiders were really in trouble. It didn’t take long for Kansas to exert its dominance and make Louisville coach-turned-temporary ESPN analyst Rick Pitino’s upset pick turn on its head.
“No disrespect to Pitino,” Markieff Morris said, “but we still playing.”
And still talking.