Jayhawks looking like tournament's top team

Posted: March 19, 2007

CHICAGO - There are still 15 games to play in this NCAA Tournament so nothing has been decided. But there is no question which of the last 16 teams is playing the best. It is Kansas.

The Jayhawks have the hard-to-handle trifecta of speed, size and strength. The players come in waves and the ball moves from one end to the other like it is riding shotgun at Daytona.

Yesterday, at the United Center, Kansas beat Kentucky, 88-76, in a game that wasn't remotely that close. KU-UK was all KU.

It is one thing to beat Niagara by 40. It is quite another to handle the Kentucky Wildcats like you own them. And that is precisely what Kansas did.

In two NCAA games, Kansas (32-4) is shooting 70-for-127 from the field and 23-for-38 from the arc. The Jayhawks shot 56.6 percent against Kentucky, a very good team from the SEC East, which produced three Sweet 16 teams.

If KU has a weakness, it is not apparent. Yesterday, Julian Wright was a man inside with 21 points and eight rebounds. On a team of freak athletes, Wright and Brandon Rush, whose arms and legs seem supersized, stand out. Rush (19 points) was 6-for-7 from the arc.

"You can't play mistake-free, but you have to come close to playing flawless on both ends of the court [against Kansas]," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

Can the team sustain this through four more games?

"I hope and pray so," Rush said. "The way we are playing right now is pretty high class."

Kansas lost in the first round with older players 2 years ago and, in the first round last year, with young players. This group looks just right.

Kentucky (22-12) walked off the court to the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home." These days, with heat on Smith, it might not be all that comfortable. Hey, there is the always the Derby.

The only thing Smith did wrong yesterday was show up with players that were not good enough to compete with Kansas. Which, of course, might be his worst sin of all.

"I expect to be back, let's put it that way," Smith said when the subject of his employment came up.

On Friday, everybody but Ashley Judd seemed to be waiting in the lane for any Villanova player trying to get to the rim. Against Kansas, the UK players simply could not be all the places they needed to be.

Villanova's players would have fared no better. With a short bench, short rest and only two offensive options, 'Nova might have been better off going down valiantly against UK. Kansas is just that good.

"Offensively, this is as good as we've looked," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

If the Jayhawks look much better, everybody has issues. Next up is Southern Illinois in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday. The Salukis really play defense. So do UCLA and Pittsburgh on the other side of the West bracket. They'll have to. And even their best might not be enough. *

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