NCAA Tournament

KU needs Robinson’s ‘A’ game in NCAA Tournament

Updated: 2012-03-21T07:14:21Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

— The box-score line was among the ugliest of the season for Thomas Robinson.

Two field goals were a season low. So was his shooting percentage in a game at 16.7 percent. Shots were forced, some ill-advised.

Yet, there was Robinson sitting in front of his locker with a grin that might also have been a season best.

The Jayhawks advanced to Friday’s Midwest Region semifinal game with North Carolina State after a heart-stopping 63-60 victory over Purdue, a game in which Robinson didn’t bring his best.

“Something like this is what you have to face if you want to win a championship,” Robinson said.

Robinson air-balled his first shot, and things didn’t get much better. He missed from several spots, including stick-backs, and never found his touch.

“He tried so hard,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He tried too hard. And the longer it goes on, you feel like nothing good is happening. He throws up a jump hook to start the game. It’s an air ball, doesn’t go back to it, and that’s his best shot.”

He missed two shots within 10 seconds just after Purdue had retaken a one-point lead with about 21/2 minutes remaining. And after the Boilermakers had jumped ahead by three, the Jayhawks seemed doomed when Tyshawn Taylor missed a three-pointer, and Robinson bricked the stick-back.

The Boilermakers gave Robinson more attention than any opponent this season, and it nearly paid off.

“They played him smart,” Self said. “They put two around Thomas, and two became three.”

That happened when Purdue left Travis Releford open. Releford finished with 10 points — above his average — but the Boilermakers were more than willing to make that trade.

“There are games you have to grind out,” Robinson said.

But Robinson, who leads Kansas in scoring at 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, hasn’t become one of the nation’s most decorated players — he was chosen to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-America team Tuesday — solely on his points and boards.

Without either of Robinson’s two huge defensive moments in the final 3 minutes, Kansas likely wouldn’t have won.

Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson thought he had a clear path to the basket when Robinson swatted the ball from behind. Kansas controlled the ball, and 10 seconds later Elijah Johnson buried a three-pointer that gave the Jayhawks their first lead.

With KU ahead 61-60, Purdue ran a play for Robbie Hummel, whose torrid shooting pace in the game’s opening moments forced Kansas to shift Robinson off Hummel, the Boilermakers’ 6-8 shooting guard.

Hummel’s 22 first half points were nearly more than the entire Jayhawks’ squad, and he was sitting on 26 when he curled for what appeared to be a good look at a three-pointer with 8 seconds left. But Robinson closed quickly to bother the shot.

KU assistant coach Danny Manning said he’s seen that effort all season from Robinson.

“He’s an effort-and-energy guy first, and everything else falls into place from there,” Manning said.

Then, look at the entire box score. Yes, two for 12 shooting. But also 11 points because Robinson got to the line 11 times and made seven. He pulled down 13 rebounds, and the Jayhawks’ dominance of the boards helped the margin from growing larger during Purdue’s lead during the first 37 minutes.

The double-double was Robinson’s 25th of the season, which leads the nation and tied a school record.

Even his poor days have been productive.

And Robinson has been mostly productive in Kansas’ losses. He recorded a double-double in four of the six defeats and has averaged 16.8 points and 14.5 rebounds in all the losses. Where Kansas’ and Robinson’s troubles line up is in his shooting. In those six losses, Robinson, a 53.1 percent shooter on the year, has been under 50 percent five times.

But Taylor insists it’s a sign of growth that the Jayhawks found a way to win on a night when he and Robinson delivered poor offensive performances. Taylor was four of the 11 from the floor, missing all four three-point attempts, and finished with 10 points.

“It shows how far we’ve come,” Taylor said. “Two months ago, if me and Thomas have those kind of games there’s probably no way we win. We showed we can be good when our best players aren’t playing their best.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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