In the moments after Kansas’ 59-54 victory over Texas A&M, I was busy trying to figure out how the Jayhawks actually won the game. Usually, no matter how ugly it is, I can decide at least one way that KU won and spin my story around whatever that factor is. After this one, my head was spinning, and it wasn’t all because of the tight deadline.
There was Cole Aldrich’s 12-point, 10-rebound, 5-block performance, so you could jump to the conclusion that Aldrich and KU’s inside play was the difference. But then Texas A&M pulled down 20 offensive rebounds. Twenty! Where was Aldrich then?
What I settled on was this abstract idea of toughness, because that’s what Sherron Collins said it was and because I only had 25 minutes to write.
Toughness, in this case, was KU going to the free-throw line 26 times and making 18 of them, compared to Texas A&M, which only went 11 times and made five. Things weren’t going well for the Jayhawks, but they never stopped attacking the basket. Texas A&M settled too often for 3-pointers, and, of course, Aldrich’s presence may have had something to do with that.
So we had KU coach Bill Self talking about his team’s toughness, which happens often because he loves to talk about toughness. I asked him if Collins has the rest of the team loving these close games and these challenges, and he sort of bought it before saying that a lot of other guys are loving it, too. Then someone else followed that up by asking Self if Brady Morningstar is one of those guys.
Self said yes, but then he said something that was pretty interesting. It was something he didn’t have to say but volunteered.
Yes, Morningstar is good in a tough spot, “but he’s gotta make shots,” Self said.
This was interesting to me because I thought Morningstar had moved past the point where he had to make shots to impact the game. Morningstar has been considered KU’s best perimeter defender the past two seasons, and this year he has been the team’s most consistent passer and post-feeder with an astounding assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.41. The book on Morningstar had become that the Jayhawks were way better with him in the lineup. He wasn’t just glue; he was superglue. If he made some shots, well, that would be great, too.
Apparently, that isn’t so much the case. Morningstar hasn’t made shots the last two games, and his minutes have decreased to 17 against Iowa State and 24 against A&M. Self went with Tyshawn Taylor to start the second half against A&M, and it was Taylor who was also the key in KU’s victory over Iowa State on Saturday.
I have marveled at Morningstar’s ability this season to go long stretches without taking a shot and then nail the shot when he’s open. And maybe he isn’t close to as valuable when he’s not doing that.
It’s only been a couple of games, but I’m starting to wonder if Morningstar’s hilarious free-throw attempt at Texas has gotten in his head a little bit. In his last two attempts from the line last night, his first since UT, he was way off and barely hit the rim on one of them. He hasn’t shot the ball well from three since then either, missing all five attempts.
Morningstar’s MO has been the old “ice in his veins” cliché. Without that, is he a 30-minute-a-game guy? And if Morningstar isn’t, will KU be as tough of a team? Those are some things to watch as Big 12 play closes.