Thursday, April 3, 2003

Thin bench concern for Kansas

By Steve Brisendine
The Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Reserve Michael Lee tried telling teammate and close friend Aaron Miles about his frustration with criticism directed at the Kansas bench. All Miles could do was laugh.

"It wasn't funny, but it was funny to me," said Miles, the team's starting point guard. "I knew how good he was, even if he said he wasn't. It made me angry when anyone else said anything bad about him."

Lee and several other reserves have played well recently, giving people little to say. But as Kansas prepares to make its second straight Final Four appearance Saturday against Marquette, coach Roy Williams believes the bench is a concern.

"I would say it's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's," Williams said.

That's saying something, considering last season's team included All-American forward Drew Gooden and guard Jeff Boschee, the career 3-point leader in the Big 12.

There have been signs of progress, though.

Lee has scored in double digits four times this season and averages 4.7 points. After scoring two points in a Big 12 tournament loss to Missouri and none in Kansas' first-round NCAA win over Utah State, Lee has averaged almost eight points in the next three tournament games.

"Michael Lee - knock on wood - has really played well," Williams said. "He was awful against Missouri in the semifinals of the conference tournament, but if you knock that moment out, he's played pretty doggone good for the last month."

Sophomore small forward Bryant Nash averages three points a game - also progress, considering he failed to score in seven of Kansas' first 11 games.

"Last year it was a much stronger bench," Lee said, "but this year we are a lot tougher. I think the difference was getting more time early to figure things out and make some mistakes."

Marquette coach Tom Crean also noted the improvement.

"I think their starters do a great job," Crean said, "and then Lee and Nash are right there ready to give them a lift. I don't really see a ton of drop-off when they go to their bench."

Williams was spoiled last season when a pair of freshmen - forward Wayne Simien and guard Keith Langford - were always ready to give Kansas a scoring lift.

Simien averaged 8.1 points and Langford averaged 7.9, and both had big games in the NCAA tournament when forward Nick Collison had foul problems and guard Kirk Hinrich was briefly hobbled by an ankle injury.

"Last year if a guy was not having a good game, you could take him out and put in a guy who was capable of getting 20," Williams said.

Langford starts now and Simien was a starter until he separated his shoulder, ending his season.

There also are problems with size. The only bench player taller than 6-foot-7 is 6-10 Moulaye Niang, a freshman from Senegal who averages 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds.

The implications haven't been lost on Collison, who leads the Jayhawks in scoring (18.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.6).

"There have been times when I'm defending a guy and I have to just let him go around me and score rather than risk getting a foul," he said. "I haven't been able to defend as aggressively, but I think I've been able to stay out on the floor better."

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MEN'S BASKETBALL (Final Four Schedule)
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Final Four pays for Marquette
Thin bench concern for Kansas
'Horns can play hoops, too
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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL (Final Four Schedule)
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More NCAA Tournament coverage

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Wednesday's High School Results
Today's High School Schedule