Rushed Reactions: #12 Kansas 73, Saint Louis 59Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012
Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent and editor. He filed this report from the CBE Classic Hall of Fame Classic final in Kansas City Tuesday night.
Here are three key takeaways from Kansas’ victory over Saint Louis in the CBE Classic finals:
- Jeff Withey: Closer? After controlling the game for much of Tuesday’s championship battle, the Jayhawks allowed Saint Louis to claw back into it whittling a 16-deficit lead down to nine with 3:52 to go. Down the stretch, Kansas sealed the game by repeatedly going inside to Jeff Withey. Over the final 3:29, Withey made two high-percentage shots and hit a pair of free throws. The senior center was more aggressive on offense than he has been all season, backing towards the basket and getting close looks rather than settling for hook shots. While opinions vary on whether it’s just a narrative or a real need, KU fans expect complete teams, and that means having a go-to guy to stop runs and close out victories. For the Jayhawks, that person has generally been a guard in the mold of Mario Chalmers or Sherron Collins, but Withey’s size and experience, combined with an accurate stroke from the line (he hit 11 of 14 free throws Tuesday) make him a strong candidate to fill the role. As if his defensive prowess wasn’t already enough to keep opposing coaches up at night, his aggression on offense may bring it to a whole new level. With a challenging non-conference schedule still remaining for KU (including Colorado, Belmont, Richmond and Ohio State), Bill Self may very well need a trustworthy ball-handler in the closing minutes, so it will be interesting to see whether and how Withey embraces the clutch role moving forward.
- Travis Releford Puts On For His City: KU’s fifth-year senior has been a target of criticism throughout his collegiate career due to his ineffectiveness on offense, though there’s no question that he’s an above-average defender. If Releford’s 17-point game against Washington State Monday was an outburst, Tuesday was an explosion. Releford continued his hot shooting with 21 first half points against Saint Louis. While he would add just two in the second half, the extra attention devoted to him opened opportunities for Withey get easy look after easy look. Releford, a Kansas City native, took home tournament MVP honors for his efforts. His 65% clip from the field isn’t sustainable over the rest of the season, but it was a very welcome departure from the ice-cold stretch he endured to start the year. If Releford can settle into a regular complementary scorer to the tune of even ten points per game, the Jayhawks will be tough to beat in March.
- The Billikens Go Back To The Drawing Board: After an encouraging win Monday night, Saint Louis fell behind the Jayhawks quickly and struggled to get back into the game. While they made a run late in the second half on the strength of back-to-back threes by Cody Ellis, it wasn’t enough. The Billikens’ success on offense relies on available time and the use of ball screens to create scoring opportunities, and when Jim Crews’ team got down early, it had to adjust, and that only made things worse. Self admitted after the game that his team let up on defense, which allowed the Billikens to shave a few points off KU’s comfortable lead, but SLU wasn’t able to execute their game plan with nearly the amount of success it had against the Aggies. Already down a key player in Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis now awaits the fate of guard Jordair Jett, who left the game in the first half with an undisclosed injury and never returned. It’s not even Thanksgiving and the Billikens have been faced with more adversity than many teams will face all season, though its stunning loss to Santa Clara was the kind of adversity a team inflicts on itself. Saint Louis is a tournament team, though, and its top priority should be getting everyone healthy and playing together.