Post Time: 11:22 p.m., Saturday
OMAHA -- The UNLV band regularly punctuated deadballs and downbeats with jeers of "Uh-huh! Tastes like chicken! Uh-huh! Tastes like chicken!" directed at Kansas' mascot.
But the Running Rebels weren't quite successful in hunting their game bird, as the Midwest's top-seeded Kansas team spurned a first-half threat and pulled away with the 75-56 victory.
Bill Self-coached teams have ranked in the top-eight nationally in field-goal percentage defense each of the last six years, including No. 5 this season at 38.2 percent, and Saturday, Kansas held UNLV to just 12 field goals all game, at a meager 26.7 percent clip -- a number Self was quick to downplay.
"That's a little misleading," Self said. "We weren't that good. They missed some looks that they probably normally make. And, you know, fouling is obviously part of defense. We did a very poor job with that."
Thus, the Rebels hung around by aggressively driving the lane and drawing fouls, briefly taking the lead as late as 21-19 and trailing by only five at the half.
Brandon Rush fouled out for the first time in his career, while Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson each picked up four. No one was more successful at getting to the line than the Rebels' Wink Adams. The 6-foot guard was just 5-of-13 from the floor, tallying five layups but not converting a single jump shot. Still, he drew contact inside and hit 15-of-17 foul shots for his 25 points.
In Kansas' seven-man rotation, one thing lacking is depth in the front court, so foul trouble among the big man can be a problem. But the Jayhawks showed an ability to adapt. Self went to a small lineup, against his scouting report, and it made the difference.
Kansas' guard play proved too quick and elusive, and UNLV's smallish front-court wasn't able to stand tall on the second line of defense. The Rebels' tallest starter is Joe Darger, a scrawny 6-foot-7 forward with a gelled-up mohawk and ever-present piece of chewing gum, who mostly plays on the perimeter. Jayhawks guards Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins each scored 10 points after intermission, each slashing his way to multiple buckets on tight drives to the hoop. And Mario Chalmers, who started an uncharacteristic 1-of-6 on three-pointers, didn't miss any of his four jumpers inside the arc, for a total of 17 points.
"I just tried to get in the lane to make something happen," Collins said. "When I got in there, they didn't collapse on me, so I went to the basket."
Though the foul trouble may have exposed the minor weakness that is Kansas' short front-court bench, it also highlighted their surplus of scoring guards. Though Robinson and Collins aren't usually counted on for their offense, they proved they were more than capable.
"We thought our advantage was size," Self said. "Fouls and everything dictated differently. We went four [guards] around one [forward] and really open, spread the floor, and that [helped] Sherron and Russell's game as far as getting in there and making plays."
In UNLV's rout of Kent State on Thursday, in which it held the Golden Flashes to just 10 first-half points, aggressive trapping and up-tempo play made the difference. The oft-repeated cheer of "Reb-els! Reb-els!," with its accompanying chopping gesture -- think Florida State's war chant for the cadence and hand motion -- might as well have been "Run-ning!" against Kent State, but the Running Rebels couldn't outpace the Jayhwaks.