Russell Robinson (Steve Puppe photo)
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
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,
“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
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
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,”