What a Rush!

Brandon Rush (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Brandon Rush hadn't exactly been on fire lately. The junior forward averaged just 8.7 points on a dismal 27.6 percent field-goal shooting in his last three games entering KU's semifinal matchup with Texas A&M at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Saturday.

Brandon Rush was coming off an especially poor performance the previous game against Nebraska on Friday night, when he committed four turnovers and shot just three of 10 from the field for nine points.

“I played terrible yesterday, and I wanted to come back and play a good game and show everybody,” Rush said after scoring a career-high 28 points in leading KU to a thrilling 77-71 victory over the Aggies and a berth in Sunday’s Big 12 Championship game with Texas.

Rush didn’t just play a good game on Saturday, he played the game of his life. Rush shot nine of 13 from the field (five of eight from three-point range), while scoring 18 points in the second half. He also committed just one turnover.

“I haven’t played any better,” he said as over 20 reporters and broadcasters swarmed him by his locker after the game. “It was a career-high game, so it can’t get any better than that. We got the win. My teammates were looking for me. I had a lot of open looks and made some big-time threes at the end.”

KU coach Bill Self said Rush put on a show.

“Brandon was as good as I’ve seen him the last three years,” Self said. “The thing that I’m most proud about...is he didn’t play at all yesterday. And for him to come back from that I think is a good sign. He needs to have some breakout games when it counts the most. And certainly this was one of those type of games.”

This was a completely different Rush than the one who showed up against Nebraska on Friday night, or the one who showed up versus Texas A&M in College Station a week ago on March 8, when he shot just two of nine from the field (10 points) and committed three turnovers. Fortunately, KU beat the Aggies that day, 72-55, and won a share of the Big 12 Championship.

But make no mistake, KU (30-3) wouldn’t be in the Big 12 Tournament Championship today if not for Rush. The ‘Hawks needed every one of his 28 points on a day when this always balanced team had just one other player in double figures (senior forward Darnell Jackson with 14 points).

With sophomore guard Sherron Collins struggling with his shot (3-8 FG), senior guard Russell Robinson not an offensive force (2-4 FG), and junior guard Mario Chalmers hampered with a knee bruise (2-5 FG), Rush took it upon himself to take control of the game.

He attacked the basket, he hit floaters, he hit threes, he hit pull-up jumpers. He basically did it all. With KU down 39-37 with 17:32 remaining in the game, Rush attacked the lane and got fouled on a jumper for a three-point play. That put KU up 40-39, a lead KU would never relinquish. While the Aggies kept pushing hard the second half, Rush hit big shot after big shot, knocking down four straight buckets, including two threes, within an eight-plus minute stretch (16:12 to 7:50 mark).

“I was demanding the ball every time,” Rush said. “At the time I was on fire, I probably hit my last four or five shots, and then it went on from there.”

After the Aggies cut KU’s lead to two (65-63 with 5:21 remaining), Rush finally missed a shot, yet rebounded the ball, got fouled, and made two free throws. He then followed those charities up the next time down the court with a three-ball, giving KU a 70-63 lead.

And it was only fitting that Rush scored KU’s last two points of the game (two free throws) with six seconds left. His 28 points were the most he scored since his 24-point outing against K-State on March 4, 2006.

This was definitely a night to remember for the Kansas City native, who said it was extra special  playing at the Sprint Center about five minutes from where he grew up. However, he added that given a choice, he would have preferred to score his career high in Allen Fieldhouse because “I haven’t played really well (there) the whole year.”

Rush said a defining moment in the game was at the 11:27 mark in the first half when he raced down the left baseline, took a crisp pass from Collins, and threw down a one-handed thunder dunk. That gave KU a 17-16 lead.

“Everybody started getting on their feet,” Rush said. “I definitely felt the love from the crowd.”

Self ran some specific plays for Rush in the second half to get him shots. And his teammates kept telling him to shoot the ball “every time I touched it.”

“My whole key was to stay aggressive and take the open shots,” Rush said.  “Everything was falling for me, so I kept shooting.”

Senior teammate Sasha Kaun hopes Rush continues to stay aggressive and shoot the ball.

“He had a phenomenal game,” Kaun said. “I’m really happy for him. It’s kind of a good time for him to do it and boost his confidence up in time for the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, he’ll keep it up and bring it for us every night. That will help us in the long run.”

Kaun said Rush is human, though, and can’t have big games all the time.

“It’s basketball,” Kaun said. “LeBron (James) can’t get 50 points every night. Same with Brandon. Sometimes things just don’t go right and the shots don’t fall.”

As Rush echoed: “Sometimes, it doesn’t go in all the time. Sometimes it falls all the time.”

Then he smiled.

“It was definitely my night,” Rush said. “I’m definitely going to look to shoot some more (against Texas).”

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