Kansas Fends Off North Dakota State, 84-74
March 20, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Cole Aldrich's long arms emerged above the lane to snatch the rebound and slam it in, drawing a foul he turned into a three-point play and a nine-point Kansas lead with just less than 2 minutes left.
North Dakota State's upset pursuit had the support of the crowd, but the lanky yet powerful Aldrich was too hard to guard in his return home.
Sherron Collins scored a season-high 32 points and went basket for basket with NDSU star Ben Woodside, while Aldrich finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds to help the defending NCAA champion Jayhawks hold off the 14th-seeded Bison 84-74 in the first round Friday.
Kansas (26-7) was ahead the entire second half, but the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region rarely led by double digits.
"We had to get tougher today to win, and that's a good thing," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Woodside's 37 points led Self to declare him the best guard his team faced this season, and his third 3-pointer pulled North Dakota State (26-7) to 73-67 with 2:25 remaining. But Aldrich's one-motion putback, his eighth dunk of the game, on the next possession essentially ended the Bison's hope.
"It's tough," Woodside said, "because you're worried about him inside but also you're worried about their shooters in the corner."
Aldrich, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who starred at Bloomington Jefferson High School not much more than a 15-minute drive from the Metrodome, had 15 points in the second half and likely took his NBA stock up another level.
"We tried to front him, and they quite got a few lobs over us," said NDSU's Brett Winkelman, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. "Then we tried to play behind him. He's a great player, and obviously he's going to have a great future. It was frustrating not being able to do a little more."
Self warned Collins about Woodside, who also played all 40 minutes.
"I didn't know he was THAT good," said Collins, who had eight assists and was so steady that Kansas had only five turnovers in all.
In their first season of eligibility for the NCAA tournament after a four-year waiting period following their move up from Division II, the Bison proved they indeed play pretty good basketball up on the prairie.
They were within three points several times down the stretch, but the unheralded Summit League champions couldn't clear that last hurdle and clearly wore down during the second half.
Starting center Lucas Moormann, one of the five seniors who redshirted as freshmen for this chance to play in the dance, fouled out with 5:47 left. NDSU went only 3-for-11 from 3-point range after halftime after sinking seven of 13 before.
"It couldn't have gotten much better," Moormann said, reflecting on his career. "Obviously, if we would have won a couple games in the tournament it would have been better, but it's still anything more than I could have imagined."
No. 14 seeds lugged a record of 17-97 into Friday's games, with Northwestern State's win over Iowa in 2006 the most recent success. Self and the Kansas fans remember the year before, when the No. 3 seed Jayhawks were beaten by Bucknell.
The Jayhawks, despite the inexperience and sloppy tendencies of this squad, took the court as defending NCAA champions with five straight first-place finishes in the rugged Big 12.
They had all the power, depth and historical prominence on their side, but the Bison had a built-in advantage in the Metrodome's blue seats. The crowd was roughly three-quarters in favor of NDSU, the sea of yellow shirts and green hats rising and roaring with nearly each Bison basket. NDSU had three players dive for loose balls in the opening minutes and made its first four 3-pointers, giving the fans from the Fargo area plenty to stand up and cheer for.
"The crowd was great. They had a lot of fans - a lot more than we expected," said Kansas freshman Marcus Morris, who had eight points and seven rebounds.
Woodside, wearing the same stone face and determination as his point guard counterpart across from him, was every bit as fast and impossible to stop. He blew by Collins from 25 feet out near the 8-minute mark of the second half for a layup that cut the Kansas lead to 58-55.
But within seconds, Collins - the thick, quick Chicago kid who has assumed leadership of this team since last April - was pulling up in the lane and getting a jumper to fall to bump the advantage back to five points.
Woodside capped the next possession with a pair of free throws, but Aldrich countered with another two-handed, rim-rattling slam to stretch the lead to five again.
"Make no mistake about it, we've gotten used to not losing, and this really hurts right now," NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. "It hurts because we just want to keep playing together as a group."
Collins and Aldrich will continue on instead. After struggling collectively in their last game, a defeat to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, they sure got it going.
"They're the heart and soul of our team," Morris said. "We get on their backs, and they take us wherever they want us to go."