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Aldrich, Collins key for Jayhawks offense; Kansas trying for chance at back-to-back titles

March 26, 2009

Sophomore guard Chris Allen goes for a dunk at the end of open practice on Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis — Bill Self hasn’t been around a lot of big men during his 16 years coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

That might mean the praise he gave Cole Aldrich — when the Kansas coach said he can’t compare Aldrich to anyone — isn’t too impressive.

Then again, it may just be that the 6-foot-11 sophomore center is just one of those players that only comes around every once and a while.

“I haven’t had anybody like Cole that’s come this far, this fast,” Self said Thursday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“The thing about Cole is, he’s not even strong yet. He’s just developing. His offensive repertoire, his game. He hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling.”

If Aldrich hasn’t reached the ceiling yet, then he’s at least more than a couple steps up the ladder. After playing a little more than eight minutes per game last season, Aldrich has become one of the Jayhawks’ go-to scorers this season. One of three returning players from Kansas’ 2008 national championship team who averaged more than six minutes a game, Aldrich is averaging 14.8 points and 11 rebounds a game for the Jayhawks (27-7).

Now in his second Sweet 16, Aldrich said this year’s trip is much different than the last one.

“Last year’s team, I really got in the game whenever coach relied on me,” Aldrich said. “He said, ‘go out and grab every rebound and try to score once in a while if you get that opportunity.’ This year is totally different.”

After giving it more thought, Self could only come up with one other “true big guy” who impacted the college game such as Aldrich: Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, who scored more than 2,000 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds for Oklahoma State in the mid-1990s.

Balancing act

Last season, Kansas had four players averaging double-digit points, with three other scoring more than seven per game. This season, it’s a different story, as Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins have accounted for nearly 44 percent of Kansas’ offense.

With experience in coaching both systems, Self said he would prefer to have great balance rather than rely on two stars. He also said that’s what Kansas will have to do today in order to advance.

“In Minneapolis we leaned on (Collins and Aldrich) pretty heavily because we didn’t have great balance,” Self said. “It’s going to be very important for any success that we have here in Indianapolis that we get production out of our other guys so that we do become harder to guard.

Title defense?

Kansas may be hoping to play for the chance to win back-to-back titles, but Self said this year has been about everything but defending Kansas’ title.

“I have never thought that we were trying to defend anything this year, and in large part because I think when you say ‘defend’ I think you’re talking about protecting or you’re on the defensive as opposed to taking,” Self said. “And our mind-set is, you’ve got to take what you think is yours.”

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