Jan. 3, 2009
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas coach Bill Self has said it all season: Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich have to play well for the Jayhawks to beat good teams.
They did against Tennessee and Kansas ended up with its biggest win of the season.
With Collins blowing past defenders with crossover dribbles and Aldrich flying in for dunks and blocked shots, Kansas picked up an important victory by knocking off 14th-ranked Volunteers 92-85 Saturday.
Collins had career-high 26 points and nine assists, Aldrich had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and the two Jayhawks stars combined to shoot 17-of-28 in the kind of game that should look good come NCAA tournament time.
"A lot of the guys, from us going through last year's run know that Sherron and I kind of have that extra edge going through those kinds of games," said Aldrich, who was 10-for-14 from the floor and blocked six shots. "They have confidence that we'll lead them in the right way, we'll bring them up when we're down and we'll just keep on attacking when things are going right."
Relying on one or two players isn't something Kansas has had to worry about since Wayne Simien left in 2005. Every team since then, including last year's national champions, has had talent throughout the lineup. If one player had an off-night, the Jayhawks knew someone else would be there to step up.
This year's team is much different. Collins and Aldrich are the only players back with any significant playing time from a year ago, and the team has eight newcomers.
If Collins and Aldrich don't play well, even for stretches, Kansas usually doesn't end up winning. It happened in losses to Syracuse, Massachusetts and Arizona -- its only three games against big-name schools this season -- leaving the Jayhawks (10-3) in need of a win against a big-name school.
They got it, thanks to Collins and Aldrich, feeding off a rowdy crowd to build an early 16-point lead, then holding their composure against Tennessee's defensive pressure for Kansas' 32nd straight win at Allen Fieldhouse.
"Every team needs signature wins, resume-builders, and this was a good one for us," Self said.
Tennessee (9-3) had already padded its resume with wins over Georgetown and Marquette. The Volunteers entered Saturday's game on a three-game winning streak and were looking to build momentum for the start of Southeastern Conference play in a week.
Instead, poor shot selection and defensive breakdowns put Tennessee (9-3) in a big hole early and the Vols never recovered, making Wednesday's game against No. 16 Gonzaga a little more daunting.
"I'm hoping this one will serve us well," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Look, Kansas is a NCAA tournament team. It's hard to win on the road against NCAA tournament teams."
Allen Fieldhouse is already one the nation's loudest arenas and the atmosphere was more like a Metallica concert than a college basketball game for the first meeting between these two powerhouses.
"The building was juiced," Self said. "That's what Allen Fieldhouse is supposed to feel like."
Tennessee seemed rattled early on, putting up quick shots on offense, getting beat off the dribble and on backdoor cuts at the other end.
Pearl called two timeouts in the first 4 minutes -- after plenty of stomping and red-faced screaming -- and it still couldn't seem to calm the Vols down. Kansas followed with a 10-0 run, going up 25-9 on Brady Morningstar's 3-pointer from the top of the circle.
Tennessee finally started to settle down late in the first half, using its defensive pressure to whittle the lead to 40-31 by halftime despite going 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
The Vols never made it all the way back, though. The Jayhawks answered every run with one of their own, the final one coming after Tennessee pulled within 77-70 with 4 minutes left.
"They needed a win and they came out and got what they wanted," Smith said. "They played a great game."
It started with Collins and Aldrich.
Collins set the pace early, repeatedly breaking the Vols down to get to the rim or dish to teammates for easy layups and jumpers. After taking just five shots in his last game, the junior guard had 14 points, five assists and five rebounds by halftime.
"We didn't have an answer for Collins," Pearl said. "He did whatever he wanted out there."