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Saturday, April 5, 2003
Updated: April 6, 5:16 AM ET

Kansas' Big win all too Easy

By John Gustafson
ESPN The Magazine

NEW ORLEANS -- How bad was Kansas' 94-61 romp over Marquette in Saturday's first national semifinal?

Bad enough that after Marquette tied the score 7-7, Roy Williams didn't have to look at the scoreboard as his Jayhawks piled up 52 points over the next 16 minutes.

Bad enough that Kansas scored nearly as many points by halftime (59) as Kentucky managed against the Golden Eagles (61) in the East Region final.

Kansas bench
Kansas' regulars cheer on the Red Team late in a rout of Marquette.

Bad enough that at the half, Jayhawk guard Keith Langford (who had 17 points at the break) didn't feel the need to change his shoes, as is his superstitious nature.

Bad enough that KU's "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" chant with three minutes remaining was quickly followed by a Syracuse "Let's Go Orange" as KU's scrub Red Team mopped up. Any concerns about defending Marquette's 3-point game, or KU's lack of depth, or dealing with the distraction of Roy Williams' possible departure to North Carolina, were answered in the first 10 minutes. The Jayhawks shot out of the gate, hitting four threes in the first eight minutes, before destroying Marquette's vaunted defense that had shut down Pittsburgh and the Wildcats just seven days ago.

Fourteen of the Jayhawks' 24 first-half field goals were dunks or layups. By the time senior forward Nick Collison finally scored, and his name filtered through the squealing feedback of the Superdome's PA system with 10:37 left in the first half, this game was all but over, 27-16.

Distractions? Not tonight.

"I tried telling you guys," said Kirk Hinrich about how Williams' future wouldn't cloud KU's focus here in New Orleans. "I tried telling you, but you wouldn't listen." To the team that fell to Maryland in last year's semifinal, then endured the loss of Drew Gooden to the NBA, the idea of their coach bolting back home to Carolina seems like just another bump in the road.

"Coach told us yesterday morning he's 100 percent KU," said Lawrence native and walk-on Stephen Vinson, who played five minutes of basketball he'll never forget in the Big Easy's easiest semifinal in four Final Fours held in the Superdome. "That's all we need to know. You can take that to the bank."

For Vinson and the rest of the Jayhawks' Red Team (including fellow walk-ons Christian Moody and Brett Olson), which serves as a daily punching bag for Kansas' starters in practice, Saturday night was a dream come true. Vinson thought his season was pretty much over two weeks ago. The freshman, who scored just 13 points all season, played two minutes in KU's second-round win over Arizona State. The future didn't look so bright. Duke lay ahead. And beyond that, Arizona. But here he was checking in with five minutes and change left in a Final Four semifinal.

"That's the most time I've gotten all year," Vinson said. "And we played some Division II teams." Saturday's game also marked a high point for the guy Vinson tries to check in practice, Hinrich.

The senior, who was a non-factor in last year's loss to Maryland and scored just two points in this year's Sweet 16 win over Duke before hanging 28 on Arizona in the West Region final, had another great outing.

"I came in as a Kansas basketball fan," Vinson said. "He was the guy I wanted to play like. But once you play against him you realize you're nothing like him. He humbled me very quickly."

Saturday night, it was Marquette's turn to be humbled.

While Langford spent much of the first half slashing to the hole, Hinrich locked up Dwyane Wade on defense, denying Marquette's star the ball. And on offense, Hinrich's three first half 3-pointers were all daggers. Kansas' spectacular first half and early second-half play eventually built the lead to 43 points. That meant Kansas' big two, Collison and Hinrich, ended up sitting out the last eight minutes of the game, resting up for Monday's final against Syracuse.

"The last eight minutes were really long," Kirk said. "But they were a good eight minutes."

While the questions about Williams' future in Lawrence remain, the Jayhawks refuse to let them obscure the task at hand. Hinrich was asked if KU could possibly play better on Monday than they did Saturday.

"We're going to try," he said. "You always try to play the perfect game although that never happens." Saturday night's 40 minutes were pretty damn close.

John Gustafson is a writer at ESPN The Magazine.



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