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A bunch of go-to guys

Kansas doesn't rely on one player, which is what makes the top-seeded Jayhawks so dangerous against UCLA today.

March 24, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — Kansas, take us to your leader.

You say there isn't one?

The Jayhawks team taking on UCLA today at HP Pavilion in the West Regional final is trying to win a national title without a lead vocalist.

Kansas is rock-chalked with backup singers, though, and all of them can carry a tune.

Ask UCLA who its leaders are and two names roll off the tongue: Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison.

Ask Kansas the same question and someone unfurls a scroll.

The short answer is that it depends on what day it is.

Thursday night, sophomore guard Brandon Rush led the team with 12 points and made a key driving layup with 25 seconds left to help lift Kansas to a 61-58 victory over Southern Illinois.

But it might be someone else today.

Among the possible candidates are forwards Julian Wright and Darnell Jackson, guards Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers, center Sasha Kaun, or maybe even the freshmen, guard Sherron Collins and forward Darrell Arthur.

If you can knock a team that's 33-4 and one win from the Final Four, it's that the Jayhawks don't seem to have one guy they turn to in climactic moments.

Kansas, in a sense, is still growing up -- its top five scorers are sophomores or freshmen. Eight players have key roles.

Four players in the last four games have led the Jayhawks in scoring.

Rush was Mr. Big Shot on Thursday, but it could be fill-in-the-blank today.

"That's still how we look at it," Kansas Coach Bill Self said Friday. "We've got eight starters that can make plays when the game counts the most."

UCLA Coach Ben Howland, who was in an ornery mood during Friday's news conference, took issue with the premise.

"That's your opinion that they don't have a go-to guy, right?" Howland told a reporter.

Well, no, actually it was Self's opinion.

Howland said he thought Rush was the go-to guy, but then said watch out for Wright because "he can shoot it."

Then he mentioned Chalmers.

"They have a lot of good players," Howland said.

In Kansas' dream world, the 6-foot-6 Rush would be the guy. And although he has been reluctant to take on more responsibility, he's the closest thing Kansas has to a leader in the locker room.

"I'm a very unselfish player," Rush said. "I look to my teammates all the time."

Once, Rush had a reputation of shooting too much.

"It's funny," Rush said. "Now everyone's telling me to be more aggressive, to take more shots."

Teammates have encouraged Rush to become more involved.

"Everyone knows how good he is," Wright said. "This is tournament time. He's a second-year player with us. He's starting to emerge."

Can a team win it all with guys playing hot-potato when it counts?

Kaun, Kansas' center, says it puts more pressure on opposing defenses.

"When you have one go-to guy, a team can concentrate on just one guy," he said.

Some UCLA players agree.

"It makes their team more versatile," Afflalo said. "... It just makes a team more complete when you're like that. You're not so dependent on one person to do so much, and that's the mark of a good team."

After first-round exits the last two years, Kansas has taken its all-for-one act to the next level.

The Jayhawks have six players averaging seven points or more.

Rush leads the way with his 13.7 average, with Chalmers (12.5) and Wright (12.1) close behind.

"We've got so many weapons, why waste them?" Rush said.



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There were 982 responses to our online poll: Who will win the West Regional?

*--* UCLA 82.4%


*--* Kansas 17.6%


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