Kansas' speedy pace leaves Marquette dizzy

Final Four

Ncaa Tournament

April 06, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

NEW ORLEANS -- Hey, Marquette, Kansas went that-a-way.

Marquette may have never seen the Jayhawks. If it did, the Jayhawks must have been a blue-and-white blur en route to the NCAA championship game tomorrow night here at the Superdome.

In one of the most explosive and dominating offensive performances in recent NCAA Division I history, Kansas ran Marquette ragged, 94-61, in a semifinal game. A Kodak moment came with 8:32 left in the first half with Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich shooting two foul shots.

Moments before he received the ball from the referee, Marquette forward Scott Merritt and center Robert Jackson were breathing heavy, hands above their heads, sucking down as much oxygen as possible.

And this was just the first half.

And that's what you have to like about Kansas.

The Jayhawks play their own style and they don't care about anything else.

"We had a lot of of respect for Marquette, realized that they're very talented, would be a tough opponent," said Kansas forward Nick Collison. "I think we realized we had to play our game, you know, whatever happened, that would happen."

Marquette came out early in zone defense to try to slow Kansas, and Hinrich responded with some early jumpers. Marquette went to man-to-man and Kansas revved up the running game again. The Golden Eagles didn't have the talent or the depth to do anything about it. Kansas exposed Marquette as basically a two-man team with guard Dwyane Wade and Jackson, but the way the Jayhawks ran Marquette off the court was humbling and embarrassing.

And now, heading into the final, you have to wonder Kansas can be stopped. Not only do the Jayhawks have that exasperating, unrelenting offense, they also have the senior thing going with Collison and Hinrich. They still have enough muscle to go inside even with the fast-paced attack, a lot of postseason experience and a coach in Roy Williams whose trophy case is still bare of an NCAA championship.

"Our goal from Day One was to win the national championship," Collison said. "I think we felt like we had enough talent to do it. But we realize a lot of other teams had as much talent as us. We're definitely not surprised. Our mission is to always keep attacking."

The Jayhawks were relentless.

Kansas took control of the game with a 17-4 run during a near four-minute period in the first half as the Jayhawks finished it off with a 31-16 lead with 9:14 left in the first half. But even more frustrating than the commanding lead was the way the Jayhawks kept hammering at Marquette.

Golden Eagles guard Travis Diener hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 7 with 15:52 left in the half, but eight seconds later Keith Langford was scoring a layup. Jackson would work hard and banged inside for a tough tip-in with 15:25 left in the first half, but eight seconds later Jayhawks guard Aaron Miles was converting on another layup.

It kept happening time after time after time. It was like a slow death, and there wasn't anything Marquette could do to stop it. The Golden Eagles didn't help themselves by shooting 25.6 percent in the first half and 38.7 percent in the second.

But even when they made baskets, Kansas would beat them downcourt. Hinrich would push it to the middle and either take Marquette players off the dribble, or push the ball out to shooters on the wings. On the occasions when Kansas had to slow it down, Langford got the ball inside by slicing through Marquette's defense.

"Well, earlier, like the day before the game, somebody asked us about our transition game," said Langford. "I said that us running, you know, every team is capable of running. It's not us running faster than anyone, it's just the fact we're going to continue to do it. I think a couple of possessions they kind of celebrated the score. We were on the other end attacking and scoring. We just kept pushing."

"I can not remember any time where we've done that kind of thing," Williams said of the first-half run. "We're a team of runs. You know, we feel like we have some kind of a mentality on the offensive end that we can get some things going and make a run or two during the course of the game. The first 25 to 30 minutes was sensational."

It was over at the half when Kansas led, 59-30. The 59 points were the second-most ever at halftime in a Final Four game, and the fourth most in any half. All that was left was for Kansas to run the last little remaining life out of Marquette.

After shooting 60 percent in the first half, Kansas shot 45.2 in the second. Not a bad way to cool down. Langford finished with 23 points while Hinrich and fellow guard Miles each added 18. Kansas finished with 16 points off the fast break while Marquette had just two.

The fast pace left Marquette in a dizzying mood after the game. The Golden Eagles still weren't sure what hit them.

"Well, they're extremely fast and quick and got the ball up the court pretty fast," Diener said. "But we didn't do a good job like we all did in practice."

Maybe it's hard to duplicate Kansas' pace in practice.

"They just played so well moving the ball," said Marquette coach Tom Crean. "As hard as we tried to assimilate that in practice, I'm sure I learned now what so many others have learned in playing a Kansas team: you can not prepare for how good that break is."

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