Kansas-UCLA: Morris Twins, Defense, Lift Jayhawks Over Beleaguered Bruins, 73-61

Neil PowellCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2009

WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 6:   Markieff Morris #21 and Marcus Morris #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks confer during the game with the UCLA Bruins on December 6, 2009 at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California.  Kansas won 73-61.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When fans of the Kansas Jayhawks got their first look at the 2009-10 basketball schedule, a couple non-conference games really jumped off the page.

On Sunday, the top-ranked team in the nation headed west for coach Bill Self's maiden voyage to historic Pauley Pavilion for an afternoon tilt with another of college basketball's more storied programs, the UCLA Bruins, as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge.

Coming into the contest, the Jayhawks had won more games than all but two schools (Kentucky and North Carolina) in NCAA history.

The Bruins are in the top 10 in victories as well and have won 11 national titles, more than any other program. 

Historical significance is where the preview ended though, because this isn't your father's UCLA team.

Or your grandfather's or even your little brother's.

After recent postseason success and many departures to the next level—six first-round NBA picks in the last four years—UCLA (2-5) entered the contest on a three-game losing streak and had not started with a record this bad since Steve Lavin last greased his hair as the head coach in 2002-03. 

With the Bruins posting losses to Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Butler, and Long Beach State on the year thus far, the Jayhawks (7-0) didn't expect to get much of a fight.

Kansas used tenacious defense, as they have all season, to force UCLA into committing 11 turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game. 

Despite shooting just 33 percent from the field, along with the ball-handling mistakes, UCLA did manage to cut the lead to seven, 35-28, at the break.

The Bruins continued to build on a 15-7 run to bring the Kansas lead to just four, 38-34 early in the second half.

Then Jayhawks sophomore forward Markieff Morris seemed to take the closeness of the game personally and took over.

Markieff scored a career-high 19 points to lead a balanced Jayhawk attack.

Twin brother Marcus, not to be outdone, had another strong effort on the glass, grabbing nine rebounds.

My early prediction is that the brothers Morris will fittingly share the Big 12 Conference's "Most Improved Player" award this season. 

Freshman sensation Xavier Henry continued his stellar play, hitting on four of seven three-point shots en route to scoring 16 points.

Henry, who leads the team in scoring (16.9), extended his streak of posting double figures in every game this season.

Preseason All-American guard Sherron Collins added 14 points, showing his vast ability and skill with each basket.

Center Cole Aldrich, who dons the same honor, continued to fill up the stat sheet with 12 rebounds, three blocks, and three assists.

Aldrich did struggle from the floor, scoring just seven points on 1-of-6 shooting in the 73-61 victory. 

UCLA was led in scoring by Michael Roll's 16 points but lost one of their promising young players, forward Reeves Nelson, when he was accidentally poked in the eye at the 12-minute mark. 

He tried to return with his right eye shut and wearing protective goggles but couldn't continue to go, later ending up in the emergency room for treatment.

Nelson brought great energy to the contest and had been elevated to starter following Drew Gordon's recent departure from the team. 

Gordon, who averaged 11.2 points on the season, quit the team last Tuesday.

The Jayhawks overcame their worst shooting performance of the young season (44 percent) by holding UCLA to just 36 percent.



* Unlike in the previous, 98-31 blowout victory vs. Alcorn State where everyone but the trainer entered the game, the Jayhawks shortened the bench against UCLA.

Just seven players saw more than four minutes of action.

Freshmen Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson played a combined five minutes in the contest. 

* The Big 12 has looked impressive in the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge and holds an 8-2 advantage with just two games to go.