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Kansas Puts Out Blaze in Hurry

Having practiced against eight players, Jayhawks defuse pressure by Alabama Birmingham in a 100-74 victory.

March 27, 2004|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — It was 40 minutes of hell, all right.

Except this time it was Alabama Birmingham on the receiving end of the punishment, courtesy of a poised and well-prepared Kansas team.

With guards Aaron Miles and Keith Langford easily cutting through the Blazers' press, the Jayhawks took command early and were never threatened in a 100-74 victory Friday night in a St. Louis Regional semifinal at the Edward Jones Dome.

One game after knocking top-seeded Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament, Alabama Birmingham was knocked for a loop by a bigger, stronger and more polished opponent.

Kansas scored nearly half (48) of its season-high point total in the paint, continually getting easy shots after breaking the press.

Miles, the Jayhawks' primary ballhandler, said practicing this week against seven or eight defenders helped simulate the all-out pressure of Alabama Birmingham's "40 minutes of hell" attack.

"That's a real tough press, but I think Coach [Bill Self] prepared us well for it," Miles said. "I had six turnovers, but that's what that press causes. We were strong with the ball, got past the initial pressure and just attacked. We didn't get back on our heels, and I think that was the key."

Kansas forward Wayne Simien, who had 30 points and nine rebounds, also credited the Jayhawks' practice strategy. Simien set a school NCAA tournament record by making 18 of 20 free throws.

"Once we were facing five guys out there, it seemed pretty easy," Simien said. "We were getting layups all night."

Kansas (24-8) will meet Georgia Tech in the regional final at 11:40 a.m. PST Sunday with a chance to earn a third consecutive trip to the Final Four. Not bad for a team that seemed destined for a rebuilding season after losing All-Americans Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich to the NBA and coach Roy Williams to North Carolina.

"These guys like this time of year," said Self, who has a 13-5 record in the NCAA tournament at three schools in the last six seasons. "I don't think experience could win it for you. You've got to make plays."

Freshman guard J.R. Giddens continued to have a hot hand for the Jayhawks in the tournament, scoring 18 points on eight-for-14 shooting. Miles had 13 points and 10 assists as Kansas shot 53.6%.

Alabama Birmingham, appearing in the round of 16 for the third time in the program's 25-year history, was thoroughly frustrated. The Blazers made only 32.4% of their shots, including eight of 33 from three-point range, and trailed by as many as 31 in the second half.

Coach Mike Anderson wasn't around at the finish after picking up his second technical foul with 5:24 left for walking onto the court to argue a call. It was his first ejection in two seasons at the school.

"When you don't make shots, it's hard to put the press on like we normally do," Anderson said.

Senior guard Mo Finley, whose jump shot with 12.2 seconds left gave the Blazers a 76-75 upset over Kentucky on Sunday, led his team with 13 points but made only four of 19 shots, including three of 13 from three-point range.

"That's just the way it went tonight," Finley said. "The ball doesn't always bounce your way."

Alabama Birmingham struggled from the outset. The Blazers missed their first five shots, including an uncontested layup by Finley, and started four for 18 from the field. Outside shots didn't fall, and Kansas contested every shot in the lane.

Miles dribbled through the Blazers' press to set up close-range shots for 6-foot-9, 250-pound Simien and 6-9, 255-pound Jeff Graves, whose three-point play gave the Jayhawks an 18-6 lead 5 minutes 30 seconds into the game.

"It was pretty fun out there, getting up and down," Simien said. "Once we got past the initial three, four guys, we had [a man advantage] all night."

Kansas shot 61.3% in the first half and led, 56-41, at halftime.

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