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January 5, 2012
Better Still
Kansas Beats Kansas State

by C.J. Moore

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LAWRENCE, KAN. -- Frank Martin usually gets what he wants -- unless he's at Allen Fieldhouse.

Martin's Kansas State team came into Lawrence riding high on a six-game winning streak and a recent debut in the national rankings. They left with a 67-49 loss, courtesy of a Bill Self gameplan that took away the Wildcats' usually dominant rebounding advantage. They also saw the worst of KU (Tyshawn Taylor's eight turnovers) and the best: an offense and defense that are once again near the top nationally in efficiency.

Self started coaching for the Kansas State game on Saturday against North Dakota. He benched starting center Jeff Withey, playing the big man only eight minutes and also sitting KU's reserves because he wasn't pleased with their rebounding effort.

That strategy worked, as last night the Jayhawks grabbed 72 percent of the defensive rebounds available, holding K-State to a season-low offensive rebounding percentage.

"They got 24 more possessions than us," Martin said. "I've never in 27 years, including coaching 13-year olds, been a part of a game where our team got its tail whipped in the physical part of the game as we did today. It was a complete mismatch."

In Martin's five seasons at K-State, his teams have been held to a lower offensive rebounding percentage in a single game just four times. He has built his program on making sure that if his team misses, they get it back. Martin's teams have never finished outside of the top six nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

The Jayhawks rebound 73 percent of their opponents' misses. Self knew his team was capable with a defensive rebounding hog like Thomas Robinson under the basket, but he also knew Robinson would need some help. As a result the KU coach sent all five of his players to the glass. Junior guards Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson both had career-best rebounding numbers, 11 and eight, respectively.

"I think so much of this game is what you emphasize and guys respond to that," Self said. "We've really emphasized hitting somebody and going after the ball with two hands, who's going to get 70 percent of the balls in the air when nobody has possession of them. That's been our emphasis more so than execution."

Self has also had to figure out a way to run his always-efficient high-low offense with a turnover-prone lead guard. Taylor gives it away on 27 percent of the possessions he uses, and he was sloppy once again against K-State.

As Self has learned, the best way to prevent Taylor from becoming a turnover machine is simply to turn him loose. The Jayhawks wanted to use the Wildcats' pressure against them, and they did that in the first half to take a commanding 18-point lead.

Martin kept relatively quiet and watched his team take its annual loss at the Fieldhouse. (Martin has never won at KU, losing by an average of nearly 20 points.) Not until the second half did Martin let loose his fiery tantrums, making everyone around him uncomfortable, including KU's players. Suddenly the Jayhawks were throwing the ball all over the court, second-guessing every pass they made and allowing K-State to trim the lead to three.

"I think it was their momentum and they were playing higher, had more energy on defense during that span," Taylor said. "It just made the court seem so much smaller for us."

Self stopped the action right before the under-12 media timeout to try to settle things down, and fifth-year guard Conner Teahan turned out to be that calming influence. Teahan made back-to-back threes to bump the lead back up to seven. From that point on, KU scored on five of its next six possessions to take a 15-point lead on a Taylor runout dunk, the final knockout blow.

"We were definitely tight, and when you get tight, it's like the defense can sense that," Teahan said. "They were able to kind of tip every pass that we had and we weren't able to get the ball moving very well and that slowed us down a lot offensively, which is really what we try to do is get the ball moving. I just wanted to get our confidence back up and I was able to do that."

The Jayhawks also got a little confidence back as they were still shaken from a Davidson loss three weeks ago. This team may have its deficiencies (turnover-prone, poor three-point shooting and a short bench), but Robinson is a Player of the Year candidate -- he had 15 and 14 against KSU -- and Taylor has the ability to take a game over at any point.

Taylor might be one of the most frustrating guards in the country to watch, but his ability to get to the paint paralyzed K-State's aggressive defense.

"The play he made before halftime, there's not five players in America that can make that play. That was unbelievable," Self said of Taylor's last-second bucket before the half. "Then some of the other plays, I said yesterday he makes plays that you can't coach and he makes plays that looks like he's never been coached. But I'm glad we've got him because I think that he's a heck of a basketball player."

A four-year starter, Taylor has only lost once in his career at Allen Fieldhouse, and KU has now won 83 of its last 84 at home. One game in it's premature to crown the Jayhawks the Big 12 champs, but they certainly let the Wildcats know the old pecking order isn't gone just yet.

C.J. Moore is a writer in Kansas City. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmoore4.

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