Two traditional powers collide in Lawrence this evening, as fourth-ranked Kansas plays host to UCLA as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Ben Howland's Bruins opened the 2010-11 campaign with three straight victories, including two in regional action of the NIT Season Tip-Off. However, when the venue changed to Madison Square Garden for semifinal and final round action, UCLA came out on the short end of the stick, dropping decisions to both Villanova (82-70) and VCU (89-85).
Despite losing a ton of talent from last year's team, Bill Self's Jayhawks certainly look no worse off for it. The team has jumped out to a fast start with six straight victories and will be playing its second straight Pac-10 foe, after outlasting Arizona last weekend in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational, 87-79.
The Jayhawks will put the nation's longest active homecourt winning streak on the line this evening (63 games), against a foe that has won 10 of the previous 15 meetings in the series. Five of the 15 all-time meetings have occurred in the NCAA Tournament. This is the second year in a row that the teams have met up in this event. Last year Kansas posted a 73-61 victory in Los Angeles.
The Bruins rallied late to make a game of it against VCU, but fell for the second straight time in New York City nonetheless. UCLA held a huge advantage on the boards (43-28) and got nice offensive outings from a few players, but 21 turnovers was definitely a hindrance to the Bruins' cause. Malcolm Lee hit five three-pointers and led four Bruins in double figures with 23 points. Reeves Nelson (20 pts, 10 rebs) and Tyler Honeycutt (18 pts, 13 rebs) both recorded double-doubles, while Lazeric Jones added 14 points in the loss. The Bruins rely heavily on their starting five and aren't getting much offensive help from the bench. Four of the five starters are averaging double figures on the Year. Nelson tops the squad with a double-double of 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Honeycutt adds to the strong play up front with 14.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Jones and Lee add backcourt balance with 12.6 and 11.5 ppg, respectively.
Although Kansas is missing a couple of All-Americans from last year's team, it is a revolving door of talent in Lawrence and this year's squad has proved to be just as lethal in the early going. The team currently boasts of a ridiculous +35.3 scoring margin, averaging 92.0 ppg on a sizzling .578 shooting, while limiting foes to a mere 56.7 ppg on .358 accuracy from the floor. Junior Marcus Morris has stood up and become a leader of this squad, shooting .677 from thee field thus far and averaging 19.0 ppg. His brother, Markieff is converting 54.3 percent of his shots, while averaging a near double-double with 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per outing. Thomas Robinson completes a potent frontcourt trio with 10.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg, doing his work exclusively off the bench. Kansas once again shot the ball extremely well, connecting on 31-of-57 shots (.544) against Arizona in an eight-point victory. Six Jayhawks tallied double digits in the victory, led by Marcus Morris' 16 points. Markieff was right behind with 15, followed closely by Robinson's 14.