College Basketball Nation: Kevin Young

Kansas rides seniors to Sweet 16

March, 24, 2013
3/24/13
10:59
PM ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He’s the projected No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, the leading scorer for one of the nation’s top teams and the latest Kansas Jayhawk to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

For Ben McLemore, though, none of that mattered in a 70-58 victory over North Carolina on Sunday, when the All-American candidate spent most of the second half on the bench.

The reasoning was simple.

“We were better without him,” KU coach Bill Self said.

The comment wasn't a jab at McLemore. No player is immune to a bad game. Not even a star freshman such as McLemore. Instead, Self's words were a testament to why the Jayhawks are one of the most dangerous teams remaining in the NCAA tournament and a favorite to reach the Final Four.

On a night when McLemore scored just two points, Kansas turned to its other secret weapon -- its experience -- to defeat the Tar Heels and advance to the Sweet 16. Travis Releford scored 22 points and Jeff Withey added 16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks to propel the Jayhawks in front of more than 18,000 fans at the Sprint Center.

[+] EnlargeKevin Young
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsKevin Young was one of four seniors that gave Kansas a big boost against UNC on Sunday.
Seniors Kevin Young (10 points, nine rebounds) and Elijah Johnson (four assists) also made huge contributions for a KU team that trailed 30-21 at halftime.

The gutsy effort shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering all four seniors played significant roles in last season’s march to the NCAA title game, where the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky.

“We have toughness,” Withey said. “We know what it takes to win a game. You can see that just by the way we played in the second half. All four of us -- we didn’t want it to be over.”

But it almost was following one of Kansas’ most woeful first halves of the season. The Jayhawks missed 12 of their first 13 field goal attempts en route to a 7-of-28 performance in the opening stanza. North Carolina forced KU into 12 first-half turnovers, which resulted in a 30-21 Tar Heels lead at intermission.

“We were sped up,” Self said. “Our guys care so much, and sometimes when you care as much as our guys, you played tight.”

Self tried to fire up his squad at halftime, but just as they would do later on the court, KU’s seniors were the ones who made the biggest difference in the locker room.

Withey singled out nearly every member of the team, pointing at them and screaming, “Is this how you want it to end?”

Releford made sure his voice was heard, too.

“This could be our last 20 minutes,” he said he shouted at his teammates. “We can go out there and leave it all on the court or we can roll over like we did in the first half.”

Releford’s speech made a huge impact.

“It did a lot,” KU guard Naadir Tharpe said. “It woke us up.”

Apparently.

Johnson’s 3-pointer early in the second half forced a 35-35 tie and ignited a 38-23 game-ending run for Kansas. Withey was dominant in the paint, Young played lockdown defense on P.J. Hairston and Releford limited UNC standout Reggie Bullock to five points, nearly 10 below his average.

“That was the best game he’s played in a Kansas uniform,” Self said of Releford, who was playing before his hometown fans in his native Kansas City.

McLemore, who entered the game averaging 16.2 points, played just six minutes in the second half and finished with a season-low two points, both of which came on free throws. He was 0-for-9 from the field.

“I think it’s exciting for our team to know that you can win a game like this and have your leading scorer not make a basket,” Self said.

Self knows that probably wouldn’t have happened if Kansas didn’t boast such a senior-laden roster. And it’s no secret that the teams with the most experience are usually the ones that advance the furthest in the NCAA tournament.

The Jayhawks won the 2008 championship with a veteran cast that included Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun. Tyler Hansbrough led UNC to the title as a senior in 2009. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith did the same for Duke a year later and Connecticut wouldn’t have won the 2011 championship without junior guard Kemba Walker.

Even last year’s Kentucky team -- which was heavy on freshmen -- boasted a trio of veterans in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

“[Experience] brings a calm,” said Johnson, who has now played in 13 NCAA tournament games. “It brings more leadership. It brings a lot of things to the table. It brings things that younger players don’t have.”

Pleased as they were with Sunday’s victory, the Jayhawks know their chances of continuing to advance will be slim if McLemore doesn’t break out of his slump. In 10 of his past 11 games, McLemore’s point total has been less than that of his season average of 16.2. McLemore is shooting just 42.4 percent in those 10 contests, and only 34.6 percent from 3-point range.

“That’s going to happen with a freshman,” Withey said. “He’s going to be up and down. We know that. We need him to be ready for the next game. He’s still a stud, still a top-five pick in the NBA draft. It’s all a mindset.

“Thank God we have a week to prepare for this next one. We need him to be firing on all cylinders.”

That would help.

But even if McLemore isn’t, it’d be foolish to count out Kansas.

Just ask North Carolina.

 
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bill Self could sense something was wrong.

Less than an hour before his team played Western Kentucky on Friday, the energy and spirit that’s so often present in the Jayhawks’ locker room was missing. Smiles were few and far between. During pregame shootaround, the Jayhawks lacked their normal bounce.

“There was a little bit of a different feel,” Self said. “I actually noticed it. We were tight.”

And Western Kentucky wasn’t.

All of it nearly resulted in a history-making night at the Sprint Center, with Western Kentucky just a few shots away from becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Kansas -- which trailed by one point at intermission and only led by four points with 30 seconds left -- eventually escaped with a 64-57 victory. But Self and his players know that Friday’s win will be their last of the season if they don’t refocus before Sunday's round of 32 game against No. 8 seed North Carolina.

The Tar Heels, led by former Kansas coach Roy Williams, defeated No. 9 seed Villanova 78-71 in an earlier game.

“I think personally it’s part of human nature to not be as prepared for a smaller team,” Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson said. “But in a North Carolina-Kansas game, I think everyone comes ready to play.

“There’s going to be so much juice in the building. Roy is coming back. There’s going to be a lot of fans pumped up. We’ll be pumped up. We got that first one out of the way. We’re a little looser now. I think it will be a different attitude in the locker room before the game.”

The Jayhawks had better hope things are different during the game, too.

[+] EnlargeJeff Withey
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsCenter Jeff Withey came up huge for top-seeded Kansas with 17 points, 7 blocks and 6 rebounds.
Kansas shot just 7.7 percent outside the paint Friday, becoming the first team since 2001 to win an NCAA tournament game without making a 3-pointer. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded 41-35 overall and 18-4 on the offensive glass.

Western Kentucky outscored Kansas 17-5 on second-chance points. Hilltoppers coach Ray Harper said he couldn’t have been more proud of his players.

“The entire country got a glimpse of what they’re made of, their character and heart,” Harper said.

It would be foolish to say this game was close simply because Kansas played poorly or was ill-prepared, although those things certainly contributed.

The bigger story, though, was the moxie and grit displayed by the Hilltoppers, who hardly resembled a typical happy-to-be-there No. 16 seed, awed and overwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding March Madness.

Western Kentucky -- which was making its second consecutive tournament appearance and played in the Sweet 16 in 2008 -- entered the tournament with a 20-15 record overall and a 10-10 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. It would’ve had no chance of making the NCAA tournament if it hadn’t received an automatic bid by winning its league tournament nearly two weeks ago.

The Hilltoppers are ranked No. 150 in the RPI, which makes them far from the worst team KU has played this season. TCU, for example, is No. 238.

Harper’s players were the aggressors for most of Friday’s game. WKU probably could have won had it not shot 20.5 percent after intermission. Some of that was because of KU’s defense, but the Hilltoppers also missed some wide-open shots.

“We also made one shot for the game outside of two feet -- one,” Self said. “And that was by our 7-footer (Jeff Withey). So we didn’t exactly light it up, either.”

Kansas trailed 31-30 at halftime before battling back in the final stanza. A pivotal moment occurred when Jayhawks forward Kevin Young missed a 16-foot jumper with just under 18 minutes remaining. Young grabbed his own rebound near the free throw line and drove in for a two-handed reverse slam that ignited a nervous crowd of more than 18,000 mainly Kansas fans.

The Sprint Center was deafening the rest of the way, which was important on a night like Friday, when KU (30-5) needed all the help it could get.

“Sometimes playing at home, I think, puts more pressure on you in certain ways,” Self said. “We didn’t respond very well to the advantages we had.”

One Jayhawk who definitely came ready to play Friday was Withey, who finished with 17 points, 7 blocks and 6 rebounds. Withey scored five points during an 8-1 Kansas run that extended a 45-41 lead to 53-42 with just under three minutes remaining. Five of Withey’s blocks came in the second half.

Western Kentucky kept fighting and pulled within four points on a Brandon Harris 3-pointer that made is 59-55 with 28 ticks remaining. Kansas, though, made five straight free throws to seal the victory.

“We didn’t play our best by any stretch,” Self said. “But give Western credit. I thought they were the most aggressive team. I thought they controlled the game for the most part until the second half, when we got the ball inside some.

“We’re happy to advance, but certainly not pleased with how we played. Certainly we know we’ll have to play a lot better on Sunday.”

Video: Kansas 60, Texas Tech 46

January, 12, 2013
1/12/13
7:13
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No. 6 Kansas ran its winning streak to 13 by beating Texas Tech, 60-46, getting 14 points from Kevin Young.
Kansas fans are eager to see what Ben McLemore can do, and for good reason. McLemore was the highest touted recruit in coach Bill Self’s 2011 class, but he was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA Eligibility Center; as such, he was allowed to practice and go to school in Lawrence, but couldn’t suit up for a Kansas team that could have very much used some backcourt depth off the bench (and still went to the national title game anyway).

Self has touted McLemore’s ability more than once this offseason, but Kansas fans haven’t had a chance to see what the fuss is all about. In some ways, this week’s trip to Switzerland, part of Kansas’ preseason European tour, is that first opportunity. KU fans may not be able to see televised broadcasts, and the games may be exhibitions, but at least they can gather some dispatches. How does McLemore play? Is he ready to be a star?

Unfortunately, the answers to those questions remain delayed. Per the Lawrence Journal-World, McLemore tweaked his groin in KU’s final pre-tour practice Saturday. As a result, he played just 16 minutes in Tuesday’s game and just five on Wednesday, and Self seems unsure whether he’ll be able to get his sophomore any valuable preseason minutes:
“He wants to play,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He needs this more than maybe anybody on our team, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to get to have it.”

McLemore played 16 minutes in KU’s first game against Switzerland on Tuesday.

“He’s been trying to play, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to get out there much,” Self said. “We’ll give it another try in Paris (on Saturday) and see what happens.”

That’s a bummer, but what can you do? The injury doesn’t seem serious, but a groin tweak can turn into a nagging injury if not treated (read: rested) properly, so as much as Self wants to install McLemore in his retooled lineup, the risk just isn’t worth it.

In the meantime, the good news is forward Kevin Young retains a mastery of both international and domestic basketball rules. Per the LJW, Young made a big play against Switzerland Tuesday when he tipped a ball off the rim with three minutes left and his team down by three. And he did it against the wishes of his coach, no less:
“Since we figured out we were going over (to Europe), I was like, ‘Oh yeah. I’m starting to tip everything off the glass in practice,’” Young said. “Coach (Norm) Roberts was like, ‘No, don’t do that. Not yet. Not yet.’ So I think that was a really good play.”

So maybe McLemore isn’t getting what his coach (and KU fans) hoped out of the European trip. But Young is demonstrating a borderline diplomatic knowledge of various rules of the game. You win some, you lose some, I guess.


NEW ORLEANS -- Just eight games into his Kansas career, Kevin Young scored 14 points and snared four rebounds off the bench against one of the top teams in all of college basketball.

The forward, however, never boasted about his stat line in the Jayhawks’ 78-67 victory over second-ranked Ohio State back on Dec. 10. Even today, Young has no problem admitting why the performance occurred.

“I probably caught them off guard a little,” the 6-foot-8 Young said. “I honestly don’t think they knew who I was.”

No one did.

Young was a virtual unknown when he transferred to Kansas in August. He averaged 10.7 points for Loyola Marymount as a sophomore in 2009-10 before sitting out last season.

Young worked as a student assistant at Barstow (Calif.) Community College in the fall of 2010 before earning his associate’s degree from San Bernadino CC last spring.

“Me and the coaches [at Loyola Marymount] didn’t see eye to eye on the court,” Young said. “We had our differences. Off the court they were great guys. I’m really fortunate that they allowed me to leave. A lot of coaches could’ve put me in a bad situation.”

Instead, Young was granted his release and he verbally committed to Fresno State. He changed his mind and signed a financial aid agreement with San Diego State and was set to become an Aztec. But then he got a call from Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend in June.

“He said they were looking for players at Kansas,” Young said. “I talked to my parents about it. My mom thought it was kind of far away, but I let her know there were more opportunities for me to succeed here than there would be at San Diego State.

“The tradition and the winning here is something I wanted to be a part of.”

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was livid -- both at Young and KU coach Bill Self -- but Young held strong and arrived in Lawrence in August.

Two months later, shortly after the Jayhawks began official workouts, Self told Young he was months away from making a significant contribution.

“I was like, ‘No, I’ll be ready in a week or two, Coach,’” Young said. “He said, ‘I won’t be shocked if you’re not ready until February.’ I thought he was joking, but it took me a while.

“I was used to playing rec ball. I wasn’t used to playing with a lot of structure.”

[+] EnlargeKevin Young
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerKevin Young slams home two of the 14 points he scored in KU's win over Ohio State in December.
Young came up big against Ohio State early in the season, but after that his role was minimal until -- as Self predicted -- February. Young had 5 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in the Jayhawks’ Feb. 25 overtime victory against Missouri, which served as a precursor for March.

Through four NCAA tournament games he’s averaging 4 points and 5.3 rebounds.

“He’s so active,” Self said. “He finds a way to impact the game as soon as he checks in. We haven’t had anyone like Kevin in a while.”

As Kansas and Ohio State prepare for Saturday’s rematch in the Final Four, most of the talk centers around first-team All-Americans Thomas Robinson of KU and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, who missed the teams' first meeting with back spasms.

Still, anyone who has followed Kansas lately knows that Young has a chance to be the X factor once again.

Along with being a strong on the offensive glass, the long, wiry, 185-pound Young can also be a pest on the defensive end, which could be huge against the Buckeyes. Robinson isn’t a good enough defender to significantly limit Sullinger and emerging sophomore Deshaun Thomas, both of whom are lethal both inside and outside the paint. Along with having the length to alter their shots, Young is also athletic enough to chase Thomas and Sullinger and keep them from getting good looks.

Young said the game has “slowed down” for him over the past few months. Self has noticed.

“He’s pursuing the ball as well as anybody we have in our program,” Self said. “I have total confidence going to him off the bench. He does more with the stat sheet than anyone on our team.”

Comments such as those are almost overwhelming to Young. A year ago he wasn’t even on a college roster. Now here he is at the Final Four, a key factor for a team that is two wins away from a national championship.

“I knew from the first time I got in the gym with these guys that they were something special,” Young said.

He smiled.

“I definitely think I made the right decision.”

Not this time: Kansas toughens, advances

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
2:59
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Multiple times Sunday -- including a few occasions in the second half when his team trailed Purdue by double digits -- Bill Self sat in the middle of the Kansas huddle and repeated the same phrase.

“We can win this game!” Self said he told his players. “We can win this game!”

There was only one problem.

“Deep down,” Self admitted later, “I’m not sure I was believing it.”

Any doubts Self might have had were understandable. Fair or not, the coach with an NCAA title on his resume is equally defined by the March meltdowns that have soured otherwise great seasons throughout his Kansas career.

First it was Bucknell and Bradley. Then came Northern Iowa and VCU. On Sunday it looked as if disaster was going to strike again when the sixth-place team from the Big Ten almost pestered the Jayhawks into another epic choke job.

Almost.

This time, instead of wilting down the stretch, Kansas mustered up the inner toughness that’s helped it win eight consecutive Big 12 titles and flourished when it mattered most.

Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor combined for three breakaway layups in the game’s final minute, turning a 60-57 deficit into a 63-60 victory over Purdue, the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region.

“If you’re going to be scared, you might as well not be on the floor,” Johnson said. “We practice for those moments. You can’t run from them.”

No. 2 seed Kansas, which trailed for virtually the entire game, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. Self’s squad will play No. 11 seed North Carolina State on Friday in St. Louis, with the winner getting either North Carolina or Ohio on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.

Players such as Johnson and Taylor, though, were hardly looking that far ahead as they danced in the middle of the CenturyLink Center court Sunday. Unlike so many KU teams before them, the Jayhawks never appeared spooked or rattled during a game in which they shot a season-low 33.9 percent.

“That’s unheard of,” Self said. “That was probably more stressful for our guys than the Purdue guys. When you don’t have that momentum and energy, it takes toughness.

“I’m proud of our guys, because a testimony to a team’s toughness is to figure out a way to win when things aren’t going well. How we won is who we are.”

The Jayhawks won by outrebounding Purdue 44-36, including a season-high 21 offensive boards. They won by tightening their defense on Boilermakers star Robbie Hummel, who had 22 points in the first half but only four in the second after KU switched to a triangle-and-two. And they won because a few key players -- mainly Johnson -- welcomed the opportunity to be a hero instead of shying away from it.

“Elijah,” Self said, “has been our best player the last two weeks.”

Kansas trailed 60-57 after Purdue’s Terone Johnson scored on a pull-up jumper with 2:02 remaining. Nearly a minute later, Elijah Johnson grabbed the long rebound on a missed 3-pointer by D.J. Byrd, dribbled up the court and fired an alley-oop pass to a streaking Taylor, who caught the ball above the rim and dunked it.

[+] EnlargeRobbie Hummel
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerRobbie Hummel took some licks from the Kansas defense on his way to a game-high 26 points in defeat.
It was a risky play by Johnson in such a close game, but it didn’t matter. With 59.9 seconds left, Kansas trailed 60-59.

“I was throwing that lob whether I threw it over the backboard or not,” said Johnson, who scored a team-high 18 points. “If I was down there, I would’ve been mad at Ty if he didn’t throw it to me. That’s our game. That’s how we play with each other every day. Why not throw it?”

Johnson was big again moments later, when he came up with a steal after playing menacing defense on Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson, who had committed just one turnover all game. Johnson secured the ball and raced up the court for an uncontested layup that put Kansas up 61-60.

Purdue’s best chance to win came on its ensuing possession, when Hummel came off a screen and went up for a 3-pointer on the right wing. Robinson raced over at the last second to defend the shot, which Hummel took off-balance.

“They set a screen,” Robinson said. “I jumped at him and prayed that he missed.”

The shot was indeed off. Robinson snared the rebound and passed up the court to Taylor, who made it 63-60 with an uncontested layup with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Taylor probably made a mistake by scoring instead of trying to run out the clock, because it gave Purdue one last shot at a game-tying 3-pointer. The Boilermakers got a decent look considering the circumstances, but Ryne Smith’s heave from the right wing hit the backboard and clanged off the front of the rim.

“When the buzzer went off and we saw the red on the backboard, it was a huge relief,” guard Travis Releford said. “We gave it our all in the second half. We had to earn that one.”

Self’s feelings were similar.

“I feel relieved,” Self said, “but I feel some jubilation, too. The kids are excited. If you looked at our team [before the season] and someone said we’d be 29-7 [actually 29-6] and playing in St. Louis in the Sweet 16, everybody would have said, ‘What a great year.’”

Self’s point is certainly hard to argue.

Kansas lost four starters from season’s Elite Eight team and, throughout most of the season, has depended on Robinson, a national-player-of-the-year candidate, and Taylor, who is a finalist for the Cousy Award.

Lately, though, other players have stepped up. Sometimes it’s been 7-foot center Jeff Withey or walk-on Conner Teahan, a 3-point specialist off the bench. Reserve forward Kevin Young came up with some huge offensive rebounds Sunday. And of course there was Johnson, who will always be remembered for his performance against Purdue.

Along with his heroics in the final minute, Johnson had two huge 3-pointers late in the second half -- including one that came from about 5 feet beyond the arc.

Taylor said he looked at Johnson as he squared up to take the shot, which turned a 56-54 deficit into a 57-56 lead.

“He had a smile on his face,” Taylor said.

Johnson was asked what he thought after he released the ball.

“Money!” he said.

Self hopes Johnson and the rest of the Jayhawks carry that same confidence into their Sweet 16 game against NC State. Even though they’re the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region, the Wolfpack have more than proved their worth with victories over No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 Georgetown.

“Seeds don’t matter anymore,” Releford said. “Everyone can play at this point. That’s the great thing about this tournament. Any team can win it -- and any team can have a bad day and get upset.”

Kansas almost became that team again Sunday.

Almost.

This year, it appears, things are different.


LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Here are some quick thoughts from Kansas' classic 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Overview: Tyshawn Taylor made a pair of free throws with eight seconds remaining in overtime to lift No. 5 Kansas over archival and third-ranked Missouri. Mizzou had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but Michael Dixon took too much time and Marcus Denmon couldn't get off a shot as time expired. The game was one of the greatest in the history of the Jayhawks' historic venue, as KU came back from a 19-point second-half deficit to defeat its nemesis in what might have been the final regular-season meeting ever between the two teams. Missouri is moving to the SEC next season and Kansas has indicated it has no interest in continuing the series.

National-player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson had 28 points, while Taylor added 24 for Kansas, which clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title for the eighth consecutive season. The Jayhawks, who have a two-game lead over the second-place Tigers, can claim the championship outright with a victory over Oklahoma State on Monday in Stillwater.

Denmon scored 28 points for MU and Ricardo Ratliffe added 22. Denmon's baseline jumper with 12 seconds left in overtime gave the Tigers an 86-85 lead before Taylor raced down the court and was fouled by Dixon, which led to the game-deciding free throws.

A three-point play by Robinson with 16 seconds left in regulation forced a 75-75 tie and sent the game into overtime.

"It wouldn't have been a disgrace to lose to a good team," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But it's Missouri. You've got to win that game."

Star the game: Robinson took a huge step toward winning national POY honors with his 28-point, 12-rebound performance. Along with his clutch baskets down the stretch, Robinson also blocked a shot by Missouri's Phil Pressey as time expired in regulation.

By the numbers: Saturday's effort tied the largest comeback victory the Jayhawks have ever had at home — KU also rallied from 19 down in December 1995 to defeat UCLA. It was just three points shy of the school's biggest rally ever (22 versus Texas in 2007). ... Kansas improved to 15-1 at home against Mizzou since the formation of the Big 12. ... This was just the second time in the past 34 meetings of this storied rivalry that the game went into overtime. ... This was the fourth time these two schools have met while each was in the top 10. It was the first of those matchups that KU has won. ... Mizzou came awfully close, but no team since 2001 Iowa State has beaten Kansas twice in the regular season.

What this means for Missouri: Considering the atmosphere and all that was at stake, Missouri played as well at Allen Fieldhouse as any opponent in recent memory. The Tigers' mental toughness was unbelievable against a team that has won 90 of its past 91 home games. Mizzou wasn't at all affected by KU's deafening crowd. The Tigers hit big shot after big shot to maintain the lead until the final seconds of regulation. Their performance is a credit to the senior leadership of veterans Dixon, Denmon, Ratliffe and Kim English -- and first-year coach Frank Haith. This is a Final Four-caliber team.

What this means for Kansas: KU has accomplished one of the most underrated feats in college sports by winning an eighth consecutive Big 12 title -- especially considering this was supposed to be Self's worst Kansas team. The Jayhawks lost four starters from last year's Elite Eight squad. In the waning minutes Saturday, the Jayhawks had a walk-on (Conner Teahan) on the court, along with a Loyola Marymount transfer (Kevin Young) who averaged about 8 points a game at his previous school. Kansas also won without much of a contribution from center Jeff Withey, who turned his ankle in the opening half and hardly played after intermission. More important to Kansas fans is that the Jayhawks will have bragging rights again -- and perhaps forever -- on their most hated rival. Kansas leads the all-time series 172-95.

What's next: Kansas plays at Oklahoma State on Big Monday, while Missouri hosts Iowa State on Wednesday.

With added pressure, Kansas gets it done

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Moments before their teams tipped off at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Kansas’ Bill Self met in front of the scorer's table and shook hands.

“Merry Christmas,” Matta told his counterpart, who then looked toward the Buckeyes bench and saw national-player-of-the-year candidate Jared Sullinger in street clothes.

Just like that, the Jayhawks found themselves in a prickly situation. As much pride as they would’ve taken in beating the Buckeyes with Sullinger in the lineup, losing with him on the bench would’ve been considered a mammoth disappointment. Especially at home, where Kansas has won 80 of its past 81 games.

“No one,” guard Elijah Johnson said, “comes into the Fieldhouse and beats us.”

And that includes No. 2 Ohio State, which couldn’t overcome the absence of Sullinger and the roar of the home crowd in Saturday’s 78-67 setback against No. 13 Kansas. Thomas Robinson scored 21 points and Tyshawn Taylor added a career-high 13 assists for the Jayhawks, who improved to 7-2.

“Don’t put an asterisk next to this,” Self said. “We’re not going to apologize for winning this one in any way, shape or form. Without [Sullinger], they’re a top-five team. With him, they’re a top-two team. They’re that good.”

Self may have been stretching it a bit, although his point was well taken. The Miami Heat, for example, might not be NBA title contenders without LeBron James. But they’d still be pretty salty with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

That was the situation Saturday with Ohio State, which touts one of the country’s top point guards in Aaron Craft, along with a future NBA shooting guard in William Buford. Mix in emerging power forward Deshaun Thomas (19 points) and the Buckeyes had more than enough pieces to beat Kansas on its home court.

But they didn’t.

So while it’s wise to keep the Jayhawks’ victory in perspective and not overplay it, it shouldn’t be minimized, either.

“Give Kansas all the credit,” Craft said. “We continued to fight back today, being down by 10 or 11 two or three times during the game. Kansas is a great team and they made us play for our mistakes.”

It may be too early to label the Jayhawks “great.” But they’re certainly further along than most people expected after losing most of the key players from last season’s 35-3 squad.

Perhaps a grueling schedule has helped. Kansas has now played three top-10 teams (Kentucky, Ohio State and Duke) along with No. 21 Georgetown and an underrated Long Beach State team.

“That’s a lot by Dec. 10,” Self said.

Robinson said it will pay off for a team hoping to win its eighth consecutive conference title.

“I feel like we’re ready, man,” Robinson said. “We’ve been put in tough situations. We’ve seen enough good teams. We’ve seen the up-and-down of it, the win-loss part of it. I’m really proud of my team right now, but we’re still nowhere near our peak.”

At times, the Jayhawks looked as if they were nearing that point Saturday. KU shot 58.2 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3-point range. When Johnson and Travis Releford weren’t knocking down open looks from the outside, Robinson was muscling up for some power baskets down low.

[+] EnlargeKevin Young
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerJunior forward Kevin Young, who entered Saturday averaging 3.9 points per game, scored 14 in Kansas' victory over Ohio State.
The biggest difference in this one was Kevin Young, a seldom-used Loyola Marymount transfer who entered the contest averaging 3.9 points. Young scored a season-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and came up with a huge steal down the stretch.

“[Young] deserves the game ball today,” said Matta, whose team shot just 38.7 percent against KU's pesky defense.

Kansas led by as many as 11 points in the second half before Ohio State narrowed the deficit to four (62-58) with 5:37 remaining. The Jayhawks responded with a 9-3 scoring run to put the game out of reach.

Watching it all from the bench was Sullinger, who was averaging 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds when he began experiencing back spasms last week. Sullinger’s teammates said they assumed he wouldn’t play against the Jayhawks, but Matta held out hope all the way until Saturday morning.

He said driving up to Allen Fieldhouse and seeing students standing outside waiting to get in the building got Sullinger’s juices flowing.

“This is what gets him rolling,” Matta said. “He was trying as hard as he could to convince us [to let him play]. But in this profession, I’m looking out for my players’ best interest and I’m looking out for our program’s best interest. I’m never going to jeopardize one of my players’ futures.”

With Sullinger out of the lineup, Thomas and Buford played all 40 minutes Saturday. Fatigue was clearly a problem down the stretch for Thomas, who scored just four of his 19 points after intermission.

“I was excited to go against him,” Robinson said of Sullinger. “But what it all comes down to is Kansas versus Ohio State. It’s not about Thomas Robinson versus Jared Sullinger. I know it would’ve been fun for everyone to watch, but it came down to my team versus their team.”

Rapid Reaction: Kansas 78, Ohio State 67

December, 10, 2011
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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Here are a few quick thoughts from Kansas' 78-67 victory over Ohio State Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Overview: Thomas Robinson scored 21 points and Tyshawn Taylor had a career-high 13 assists to lead No. 13 Kansas. Deshaun Thomas had 19 points for the Buckeyes, who played without leading scorer and rebounder Jared Sullinger, who missed his second straight game because of back spasms. Kansas, which improved to 7-2, never trailed and led by as many as 11 points. Ohio State fell to 8-1.

Kansas shot a blistering 58.3 percent from the field and made 9 of 17 attempts from 3-point range. Ohio State, meanwhile, connected on just 38.7 percent of its shots.

Turning Point: After trailing by as many as 11 points midway through the second half, Ohio State pulled within four points of the Jayhawks when Deshaun Thomas' jumper made it 52-48 with 5:37 remaining. Kansas, though, responded with a 9-3 scoring run that gave the Jayhawks a 71-61 lead and momentum they would never relinquish. Robinson scored five points during the march and Travis Releford scored four.

Star of the Game: Robinson and Taylor had gaudy stat lines (although Taylor also had seven turnovers), but the hero for Kansas was obscure forward Kevin Young, a Loyola Marymount transfer who entered the game averaging 3.9 points. Young scored 14 points off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting and made two huge 3-pointers. He was also a pest defensively, as his long arms altered a handful of Ohio State shots and clogged the Buckeyes' passing lanes. Kansas has been looking for another spark from its thin, inexperienced bench. Perhaps Young will be it. He certainly was Saturday.

What the win means for Kansas: The victory may not carry as much weight since Ohio State was without Sullinger. Still, make no mistake, this win will be a huge momentum boost for a Jayhawks squad that needed a grind-it-out victory against a good team heading into Big 12 play. And, yes, even without Sullinger, Ohio State is still a very good team. There were multiple times in the second half when the Buckeyes threatened to go on a run and eventually take the lead. But the closest they ever got was within four, 62-58, with 5:47 remaining. That's because the Jayhawks continued to answer baskets by Ohio State with big buckets of their own. Whether it was Releford slashing into the lane for a layup in traffic or Young tipping in a teammate's miss, the Jayhawks came through time and time again when it mattered most.

What the loss means for Ohio State: This loss won't hurt Ohio State. Or at least it shouldn't. The Buckeyes played a relatively close game with a top-15-caliber team despite the absence of Sullinger, the leading candidate for national player of the year. As long as Sullinger regains his health, the Buckeyes are still one of the top three teams in the country. A lot of good could result from Saturday's loss, because it forced players such as Thomas, Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams into pressure situations where they had to perform. The experience will help them down the line.

Up Next: Not many teams in the country have played as tough of a nonconference schedule as Kansas, which has faced Kentucky, Georgetown, Duke and Ohio State — not to mention an underrated Long Beach State squad. Things will ease up a bit now for the Jayhawks, who will play Davidson, USC, Howard and North Dakota before opening Big 12 play Jan. 4 against Kansas State at home.

Ohio State's last four nonleague games are against South Carolina-Upstate, South Carolina, Lamar and Miami. Even without Sullinger, the Buckeyes should be able to win those games.

San Diego State ready to rebound

August, 10, 2011
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After going to the Sweet 16, San Diego State knew it was going to have to rebuild when Kawhi Leonard declared for the NBA draft and four other seniors departed from a 34-win team.

Yes, Steve Fisher was able to reload with a couple of talented 6-7 transfers in J.J. O'Brien from Utah and Dwayne Polee II from St. John's. But they won't be eligible until 2012-13.

For this coming season, the Aztecs have found that patching up some holes to be an uncertain process. Washington State transfer Xavier Thames gives them another guard, but the frontcourt is thin. Fisher signed former Loyola Marymount forward Kevin Young to a financial aid agreement, but the 6-foot-8 talent reneged and went to Kansas instead. The team also hopes the NCAA will grant center Brian Carlwell a medical hardship so he will have one more season to play, but has yet to hear back.

So when 6-foot-11 forward Garrett Green decided last month he would leave LSU attend graduate school and become immediately eligible, San Diego State pounced on the Southern California native and announced his signing Tuesday.

"Garrett gives us an ingredient we are lacking in -- size," Fisher said in a statement. "He should be an excellent addition and has the athleticism to be an extremely important piece to our 2011-12 season."

Green, who averaged 6.3 points and 5.1 rebounds, is a former ESPNU top-100 recruit who'll now have an opportunity to get major minutes closer to home.

After tasting NCAA tournament success for the first time, expectations remain high even though the Aztecs could be due for a transition year. Season ticket sales remain good, and the school is throwing in highlight DVDs from last season to customers.

This season's Aztecs team might not make anyone forget about last year's Leonard-led team, but Fisher certainly isn't going to concede a successful defense of the Mountain West Conference championship just yet.
It's rare to hear a coach openly express disappointment about losing a recruit to another school; that sort of admission requires special circumstances. That's exactly what San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has: special circumstances. Well, that and a vacant scholarship.

On Friday, Kansas announced that former Loyola Marymount forward Kevin Young -- who sat out last year and focused on academics at San Bernadino Community College, where he graduated with an associate's degree -- had committed to the Jayhawks and would be eligible to play immediately during the upcoming season. His new coach, Bill Self, said he'll be an "impact player" right away.

Bully for Kansas, right? The only problem, at least as far as Fisher is concerned, is that Young had previously committed to San Diego State. Because Young had already signed his one allowed letter of intent at Loyola, he could only sign a financial aid agreement with SDSU. Financial aid agreements bind schools to players, but players can break the agreement at any time. Whatever the legal vagaries of his commitment, though, Fisher didn't much like the fact that Young didn't follow through. He wasn't too pleased with Kansas, either.
"I'm disappointed that a young man who I am very fond of would not feel an obligation to honor an eight-month commitment," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "And I'm equally disappointed in a program and coach I'm very fond of to pursue a player who made an eight-month commitment."

Accusing another program of sliding in and recruiting a player despite his commitment to another school is as close as college recruiters will get to fightin' words. Naturally, Self had to respond, and he did so by stressing that Young had de-committed from SDSU before Kansas made any approach:
“I don’t blame coach Fisher for being disappointed at all because Kevin did commit to them,” Self said, “but Kevin also told them he wasn’t going to San Diego State before we recruited him, so we didn’t steal him from San Diego State by any stretch.

“We would not have recruited Kevin if he was committed to San Diego State. He did de-commit from them before we pursued him at all. We did not recruit him until after he de-committed,” KU’s coach stressed.

Unfortunately for San Diego State, there's not a whole lot Fisher can do or say about that. Young had the right to leave. Kansas had the right to pick him up. Unless there's some nefarious, behind-the-scenes stuff we don't know about related to the timing of Young's decision, Fisher is stuck with his complaints and not much else. Not that that makes it any better:
"Unfortunately," Fisher said, "the only people who suffer in this situation is us because we passed over three or four very talented players because we did honor our commitment."

Throw in the loss of someone apparently good enough to be an impact player at Kansas in his first year with the program, and for Fisher & Co., there's no other way to say it: This one hurts.

San Diego State big man wants sixth year

May, 11, 2011
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San Diego State is in need of a big man after Kawhi Leonard left for the NBA draft and Malcolm Thomas completed his eligibility. The rebuilding Aztecs hope the answer to their problem already lies within their program.

Center Brian Carlwell, a 6-foot-11, 300-pound presence who was a solid rotation member off the bench, has decided after some contemplation to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Carlwell played in all 37 games this season and hopes his past can help him gain another year. In 2007, he was playing at Illinois and seriously injured in a car accident in which his teammate Jamar Smith eventually pleaded guilty to driving under the influence causing great bodily harm. Carlwell suffered a severe concussion and then suffered a season-ending injury after three games that season before transferring to San Diego State. Even though he has already taken five years to play in four seasons, Carlwell wants one more.

From the Union-Tribune:
Technically, Carlwell is not applying for a medical hardship waiver since his five-year NCAA clock has expired and his sophomore season at Illinois was counted as a redshirt year. Instead, he is petitioning directly to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility based on what [coach Steve] Fisher calls "the whole package … of tremendously extenuating circumstances."

Massive head trauma can take months, even years, to overcome mentally and physically, and Carlwell has admitted he wasn’t "right" well into the following season.

"My equilibrium was thrown off," Carlwell told the Union-Tribune in a February 2010 interview. "Every now and then when I would walk, I would stumble. It was like I was really clumsy. Or things like a right-handed layup. I'm left-handed, so I had to rebuild that again … Everything was just a little off."

Getting Carlwell for another senior season would help the Aztecs, as he would become their leading returning rebounder after averaging 2.7 per game. San Diego State also has Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young becoming eligible to give the team a 6-foot-8 forward with a knack for rebounding.

Perhaps just as important, Carlwell was a member of two NCAA tournament teams and could bring that experience back to the Aztecs. They could certainly use that link to the past while preparing to defend the Mountain West Conference title.

SDSU loses Kawhi Leonard and his recruiter

April, 15, 2011
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Kawhi Leonard was a game-changing player in so many ways for San Diego State.

The 6-foot-7 forward averaged a double-double over the course of his two-year Aztecs career and this season helped lead them to an unprecedented Sweet 16 appearance.

Leonard's success also sent a message to future generations of recruits that you can win at San Diego State and achieve your NBA dreams as well. That wasn't nearly as apparent when years ago, the former California Mr. Basketball spurned late advances from larger schools in favor of the Aztecs.

Leonard leaving school for the NBA draft was an expected move that will hurt the Aztecs in the short term as they will be missing four starters from this year's team, including seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

And it will also hurt that Steve Fisher has lost the assistant coach who recruited Leonard to the school. Justin Hutson, the team's recruiting coordinator, has been hired as the associate head coach at Mountain West Conference rival UNLV, giving new Rebels coach Dave Rice a key piece.

"Justin Hutson is as good of a recruiter as there is on the West Coast," Rice told reporters.

San Diego State might not be preseason favorites in the Mountain West, but the program should have enough for a legitimate defense of their regular-season title. The Aztecs return a top defender in Chase Tapley along with sharpshooter James Rahon. They have an emerging guard in Jamaal Franklin and also add potential impact transfers in guard Xavier Thames and forward Kevin Young. Brian Carlwell, the team's 6-foot-11 center, could be back if the senior pursues a medical redshirt.

Leonard's presence boosted the program's profile and raised expectations. It now falls upon a new crop of players to continue what was started, and the lifelong Aztec will be watching.

"I will follow every San Diego State basketball game," Leonard said in a statement. "I will stay in touch with all of the players and coaches and look forward to following their future successes."

San Diego State gets some more good news

November, 18, 2010
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San Diego State notched one of the greatest wins in program history when it went on the road in front of a national television audience and knocked off Gonzaga on Tuesday, and the more distant future also appears sunny now that the Aztecs have added an impact transfer for next season.

Forward Kevin Young averaged 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds for Loyola Marymount as a sophomore and is expected to join San Diego State after sitting out the season. At 6-foot-8, Young would give the Aztecs a much-needed interior presence after seniors Malcolm Thomas and Billy White depart and Kawhi Leonard possibly leaves for the NBA draft.

Loyola Marymount coach Max Good gave Young his release after last season and also gives his former player good reviews.

"Kevin wants to play 45 minutes of a 40-minute game," Good said last week. "He's an Energizer bunny. I really think Kevin can help most teams. I really think the sky's the limit. He's a wonderful kid."

Academics cause Washington State transfer

June, 8, 2010
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James Watson had quite a life story to tell during his time at Washington State, and unfortunately for the freshman, his basketball career will now be taking a detour because of academics.

Watson, a 6-foot-7 forward who appeared in 29 of the Cougars' 31 games this season, was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester and will transfer to a junior college rather than sit out during that time.

"We wish James nothing but the best," Wazzu coach Ken Bone said in a statement.

Here's the updated list to all the West Coast transfers from this offseason.

Arizona: D.J. Shumpert

Arizona State: Demetrius Walker, Taylor Rohde, Brandon Thompson, Victor Rudd

Boise State: Tyler Young

BYU: Michael Loyd Jr.

Cal: D.J. Seeley , Omondi Amoke (dismissed)

Cal State Bakersfield: Marcus Hall

Fresno State: Brandon Sperling, Taylor Kelly, Mychal Ladd

Gonzaga: Grant Gibbs, G.J. Vilarino

Hawaii: Jeremy Lay, Aleksandar Milovic

Loyola Marymount: Kevin Young

Montana State: Austin Brown, Colt Idol

Nevada: London Giles

New Mexico: Nate Garth, Will Brown (dismissed)

Oregon: Drew Wiley, Matthew Humphrey, Josh Crittle

Pacific: Royal Edwards, Sterling Carter, Everson Lacerda

Pepperdine: Andy Shannon

San Francisco: Kwame Vaughn , Nikola Stojiljkovic

Santa Clara: Troy Alexander

UC Davis: Julian Welch, Adam Malik

UCLA: J'mison Morgan (dismissed), Mike Moser

UC Riverside: Lateef McMullan, Konner Veteto

USC: Leonard Washington (dismissed), Davis Rozitis

Utah: Carlon Brown, Marshall Henderson, Jordan Cyphers, Matt Read

Utah State: Anthony DiLoreto (dismissed), Modou Niang, Tyrone White, Jaxon Myaer

Washington: Elston Turner, Clarence Trent

Washington State: Xavier Thames, Michael Harthun, Anthony Brown, John Allen, James Watson

Weber State: Franklin Session

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