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Thursday, March 27, 2003
Updated: March 29, 7:07 PM ET

Collison ready for more after doing it all

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- So, this is how Thursday night ended for Nick Collison. Waiting ... waiting ... waiting ... to complete an NCAA mandatory drug test.

"I wish the guys who didn't play had to go through this instead," said Collison, emerging from a sports medicine room nearly 90 minutes after scoring 33 points and grabbing 19 rebounds during nearly 40 minutes of perfect basketball in the 69-65 victory over Duke.

"I did well in other things tonight, so I don't mind it. I feel great. I could play again."

Perhaps the best player remaining in the NCAA Tournament and legitimate candidate for player of the year would have had to post up the Pond's maintenance workers. His Kansas teammates, not to mention the Blue Devils, were long gone. No one had hung out around the back hallways of the Pond for him.

Nick Collison

I was just in a groove. It felt a lot like the Texas game. I was just playing on instinct. I was moving so well and everything was just going well and the ball was coming to me. It was a lot of fun out there. I hope I can have that much fun on Saturday.

Nick Collison,
Kansas senior forward

Collison would have to be satified with his career night, almost willing the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight. This is why he returned for his senior season. Now, he has his chance for a return trip to the Final Four. But, he'll likely have to duplicate his efforts in Saturday's Elite Eight matchup against West No. 1 seed Arizona.

"He was amazing," said fellow senior Kirk Hinrich, who was saddled with four fouls and sat during stretches in the second half. Hinrich went a mortal 1 for 9, which put even more emphasis on Collison. "He wouldn't let us lose."

Collison's performance Thursday night was akin to his Herculean effort against Texas on Big Monday back on Jan. 27. Collison scored 24 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in that game. In a similar zone Thursday, Collison was relentless on the boards, grabbing 11 defensive rebounds and eight offensive. He blocked three shots. He picked up a steal and he ran the floor as well as a big man can in today's game.

If you're looking for two plays that seemed to signify his drive to get Kansas to the Elite Eight; freeze an offensive rebound, putback and a fullcourt Dr. J-like finger roll.

The finger roll that started at the free-throw line on a fast break pass from Aaron Miles tied the game at 56-56 and prompted Arizona associate head coach Jim Rosborough to say out loud, "he's the best player in college basketball. It's not close."

The offensive putback put the Jayhawks up 65-59. He lost control of his first shot, but then had the sense to stay with the ball, stepping on a fallen Casey Sanders as he finished the play.

"I did actually step on him," said Collison apologetically. "I felt my foot on him. I had to get the ball. I didn't want to hurt him, but I think I was right on his chest. In the past, I probably would have dodged the guy to try and make the play.

"I was just in a groove. It felt a lot like the Texas game. I was just playing on instinct. I was moving so well and everything was just going well and the ball was coming to me. It was a lot of fun out there. I hope I can have that much fun on Saturday."

So do the Jayhawks.

Kansas became dependent on Collison when Jeff Graves picked up three fouls in the first half. Even though Kansas got decent role play out of Bryant Nash and guard Michael Lee off the bench, along with solid games from starters Aaron Miles (six points, seven assists) and Keith Langford (37 minutes, 13 points), this win came straight from Collison's heart.

"He is so fundamentally sound," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "What you saw in the Texas game was sheer, sheer effort. Today we had the proper spacing for him. The Texas game was a physical battle, but today he was tired from playing 40 minutes. He had to dig deep tonight."

The only thing to slow Collison Thursday was fulfilling those drug testing demands.

He knows Arizona will likely collapse on him in the post Saturday, just like it did on Jan. 25 when Arizona rallied from a 20-point deficit to win in Phog Allen, 91-74. Everyone, including Collison, expects the Wildcats to play plenty of zone, leave Miles free to shoot on the perimeter, and harass Collison to no end.

"That loss sticks out because it was at home," Collison said. "From what I saw today, they don't miss and we'll have to scrap out a win."

Arizona is legitimately concerned that it won't be able to guard Collison one-on-one. The Wildcats got a stellar effort from Channing Frye (14 points and 12 rebounds) in the 88-71 victory over Notre Dame. But Frye can't guard Collison alone. The Wildcats must send long, rangy forwards like Andre Iguodala and even the disruptive defensive guard Hassan Adams, at Collison.

But whether Collison scores 20, 30 or 40 points on Saturday, the Wildcats re-emerged as this year's tournament favorite Thursday night.

"The win over Gonzaga (in double overtime in the second round) really helped us," Arizona senior Ricky Anderson said. "We've got a confident look about us. Jason (Gardner) and Luke (Walton) showed poise out there like I've never seen."

And that's what makes Saturday's game such a pleasure. Kansas' all-American seniors Collison and Hinrich returned to get to the Final Four. So, too, did Walton, Gardner and, Anderson, whether they had a place to go professionally or not. Fourth- and fifth-year seniors will lead one of these teams to New Orleans out of a regional final that could easily have been played a week later if the seeding were different back on Selection Sunday.

"We left a tough, tough impression," Anderson said of the Wildcats' win over the Irish. "A lot of people say we're soft. Defensively we got after it. We're quick. That's a threat to other teams. We're quick and we got tougher."

So, too, did Collison. And that sets up the Elite Eight matchup that was supposed to happen. One that thankfully will occur.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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