Robinson Leads Jayhawks to Sweet 16

OMAHA, NEB. — Russell Robinson wouldn't let KU lose. Not on this night against UNLV, not on the second round of the NCAA Tournament when KU was struggling to get the ball inside against Vegas' pressure defense. The senior guard just didn't want the season and his career to end here at the Qwest Center.

Russell Robinson, the unlikeliest of Jayhawks, put the team on his back and scored 10 of his 13 points after halftime in KU’s 75-56 victory over the Runnin’ Rebels. KU now heads to the Sweet 16 in Detroit next Friday, where the ‘Hawks will face the winner of today’s Villanova-Siena game.

“Russell did a phenomenal job,” said senior center Sasha Kaun. “He was just getting the ball to the rim. That’s something coach emphasized at halftime. (He said) we got to get some dribble penetration. Russell’s a great player, especially when he steps up when we really need him. Today he stepped up and made some plays.”

“He’s definitely the leader on the team,” Kaun added. “He’s been doing a real good job (and tonight he made) sure we did the right thing and things (went) the right way.”

With UNLV cutting KU’s nine-point second-half lead to five (46-41) with 12:20 remaining, the partisan Jayhawk crowd rose to its feet. Robinson felt the love and went to work. He immediately took the ball to the hole and got fouled, making both free throws to up KU’s lead to seven.

Robinson and his teammates never looked back.

In all, Robinson scored seven points on a 14-3 run to put the game out of reach (KU led 60-44 at the 7:46 mark). Robinson kept driving to the lane and even knocked down a trey. He had some help, too, from sophomore backcourt mate Sherron Collins, who also scored seven points during that decisive run.

Robinson explained how he and Collins took over.

“We just took what was open,” he said. “We couldn’t get the ball inside like we wanted to, but we adjusted. They pressured a lot. One way to open it up is to drive the ball. Me and Sherron started driving, it opened up the lane and they didn’t make the adjustment.”

After KU’s 14-3 run, UNLV got no closer than 12 points the remainder of the game. But this second-round contest wasn’t easy for Kansas in a grind-it-out game with long possessions and plentiful fouls (46). KU’s Brandon Rush and UNLV’s Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau fouled out; this marked just the second game of Rush’s career where he had five fouls.

UNLV stayed in the game for 28 minutes by making free throws. The Runnin’ Rebels shot 27 of 34 from the charity stripe, led by star guard Wink Adams, who was 15 of 17 from the line and scored a game-high 25 points.

Vegas made just 12 field goals and shot a horrid 26.7 percent from the field. The Rebels had an eight-plus minute drought in the second half without a field goal (16:20 mark to 7:33).

While KU won big, the first half had the Jayhawk fans on edge.

After Curtis Terry swished a three-pointer on UNLV’s first possession, Kansas didn’t make its first shot until Darnell Jackson canned a jumper at the 16:41 mark. Jackson’s bucket started a 9-0 run. KU led by six points (13-7) with 12:12 left in the half before UNLV responded with a 12-4 run to take a two-point lead (19-17) with 7:48 remaining. The Runnin’ Rebels would lead just once more (21-19) before halftime.

KU’s biggest lead the first half was just six, and there were three lead changes.

For the game, Kansas shot 58 percent from the field and outscored the smaller Rebels 38 to 10 in the paint. Junior guard Mario Chalmers was team-high scorer with 17 points, followed by Robinson’s 13, Rush with 12, and Collins with 10 points. The Jayhawks had just nine assists on 29 field goals.

KU coach Bill Self was pleased with the victory over a scrappy and pesky UNLV team, which spread the floor on offense with Adams driving the ball most of the game. And UNLV’s pressure defense made KU play slow and use most of the shot clock. The Jayhawks even used a four-guard lineup in the second half with Robinson, Chalmers, Collins, and Rush.

“I think from a coach’s perspective, I thought it was a great game for us because we didn’t exactly execute the game plan,” Self said. “We didn’t get the ball inside with as many touches early. But the way we got it was put in the guards hands and driving the ball, which turned out to be the biggest difference in the game.

“And we really defended. Our first-shot defense was really great when we didn’t foul them, which was every other possession. But I thought it was a good, solid, grind-it-out win.”

Kansas showed it can win despite playing at a slow tempo.

“As a coach, I like these type of games, because you feel like you have more control because the possessions are longer,” Self said. “The best we executed the entire game was when we really played slow and utilized the clock and we set so many ball screens. ... We finally got a crease and was able to get guys in there.”

Guys like Robinson, KU’s sixth-leading scorer at 7.4 points per game. He was just happy to help lead his team to a victory and earn a ticket to Detroit for the Sweet 16.

“If I was another team, I’d definitely leave me open if you have to leave somebody open,” Robinson said. “Today was a day I got a lot of offense and I credit my teammates for getting me the ball and opening up things for me.”

Robinson now looks forward to Friday night in Detroit after two good victories in Omaha.

“There’s still a lot to be done and we got to refresh and get our bodies back in order and ready to play,” he said.