KU's Russell Robinson (Steve Puppe photo)
DETROIT — It was only fitting that KU was playing in the Motor City on Friday night. Behind senior Russell Robinson’s 13 points and three three-pointers, the Jayhawks were firing on all cylinders (except for four turnovers) while racing out to a decisive 28-13 lead (9:49 mark in first half) against Villanova in this Sweet 16 matchup.
Despite Villanova responding with an 8-0 run, KU was in control all
game and beat the Wildcats, 72-57, to move on to the Elite Eight.
Kansas will face Davidson on Sunday at 4:05 (CDT). The No. 10 seed
Wildcats upset No. 3 Wisconsin, 73-56, to advance to the round of eight.
Russell Robinson scored just two more points the rest of the game after
his early 13-point barrage. But make no mistake, he led the Jayhawks
into the Elite Eight with both his offense and defense. Robinson helped
shut down Villanova star guard Scottie Reynolds, who scored 11 points
on just four of 13 shooting. Reynolds also committed four turnovers.
“I thought Russell was the key to the game for us,”
KU coach Bill Self said. “I thought Russell did a really good
job of not ever letting (Reynolds) ever become a (factor).”
It seemed Robinson was extra motivated this evening playing against
Villanova, which beat the Jayhawks, 83-62, in Philadelphia his freshman
year in 2005. That’s when Robinson scored one point and had
three turnovers in five minutes in his first game playing back on the
East Coast. (Robinson is from Bronx, N.Y.)
“It really fired me up to get out there and see that
‘Nova on the jersey,” Robinson said. “I
had some flashbacks for a little but I came out and hit some shots
Self said Robinson had his game face on.
“He knows those guys on Villanova’s team from way
back, at least some of them,” Self said. “I could
just tell going into the game, he was probably as focused as
I’d seen him in a long, long time, maybe as I’ve
ever seen him. I was really happy for him.”
Robinson and the Jayhawks stopped all the questions about how they
would react to playing and shooting in the dome at Ford Field. Kansas
seemed to like the venue and goals just fine, blistering the nets for
59.3 percent the first half and 53.3 percent for the game.
Brandon Rush scored a game-high 16 points, followed by Robinson with
15, and Mario Chalmers with 14 points. Sasha Kaun had a big game with
nine points, seven rebounds, and three blocks, while Darrell Arthur
added seven points and a block.
After Villanova’s 8-0 run cut KU’s lead to 28-21
with 6:53 remaining in the first half, the Jayhawks quickly crushed any
hopes of a Wildcats’ upset with their own 10-0 run. Rush
scored a layup off an offensive rebound, and then Chalmers swished two
threes and a floater in the lane off the fastbreak to give KU
a 38-21 lead.
Robinson spoke about KU’s big run.
“We knew that whatever the lead was, they have such great
shooters that they would be in the game however much we were
up,” he said. “We just wanted to get the lead up as
much as we could and keep the grind on.”
When senior Jeremy Case hit a three with eight seconds left before
halftime (KU led 41-22 at intermission), you just knew the Jayhawks
would return to the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
Kansas let up, though, in the second half and could never blow out the
Wildcats. KU led 64-43 with 5:23 remaining when Villanova went on an
11-2 run to cut the lead to 12 (66-54). However, it was too late for
the Wildcats, whose season ended at 22-13.
“Unfortunately, we can relax a little bit,” Self
said about the second half. “That’s kind of been
the M.O. with this team the last three years, in large part. We had a
chance to put the foot on the throat, and we didn’t do that.
But they’re a good team, they’re going to make some
shots and hang around. They have tough kids, too. I just thought we
turned the ball over carelessly the second half (nine turnovers after
halftime and 18 for the game), but our defense was pretty good for the
most part the entire game.”
Indeed, it was. The Wildcats shot a horrid 26.7 percent from the field
in the first half and 35.6 percent for the game. The only player who
shot 50 percent for Villanova was sophomore Reggie Redding (1-2 FG).
Of course, KU won this game in the first half.
“It’s tough to come back from 20 down,”
Arthur said. “We came out with energy, but in the second half
we didn’t play good at all. We had a lot of mistakes and
Self agreed with Arthur about KU’s high energy during the
“I thought the key to the game was who got 70 percent of the
50/50 balls because Villanova is one of the best loose ball teams
we’ve played all year,” Self said. “I
thought the first half we did a good job of coming up with more
possessions. Broken plays, it’s so much easier to score off
of those if you come away with the ball because the other team is
collapsed and you can fan it out for an uncontested three or whatnot.
And we certainly got our fair share of broken play points.”
So it’s now on to the Elite Eight for Kansas. KU (34-3) is
just one victory shy of tying a school record for most wins in a
season. The Jayhawks know they’ll have to play better against
Davidson and click on all cylinders for two halves to reach the Final
“Our ultimate goal is to win a national
championship,” Chalmers said. “We didn’t
play that well in the second half, and I think coach is on us to keep
it up for the whole 40 minutes. We have to do a better job of