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La Salle falls short against nation's best

The Explorers hung tough early before falling off against No. 1-ranked Kansas.

Kansas' Cole Aldrich shoots over LaSalle defenders. Aldrich scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting for the Jayhawks.
Kansas' Cole Aldrich shoots over LaSalle defenders. Aldrich scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting for the Jayhawks.Read moreRICH SUGG / Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A few days ago, La Salle basketball coach John Giannini watched video of No. 1-ranked Kansas and said he saw no weaknesses.

His opinion did not change much after KU's 90-65 victory over the Explorers yesterday at the Sprint Center.

"I think they're really good," Giannini said. "We played two Final Four teams last year. We've played Villanova already this year.

"I think they're the best team we've played in a long time."

Though the Explorers hung around for a half, KU's depth and athleticism were too much to overcome.

La Salle, which takes pride in its rebounding, fell short on the boards, 44-34. The Explorers had been outrebounded only once in their previous eight games.

"We went out with intentions to outrebound them, because we usually outrebound everybody that we play," La Salle forward Jerrell Williams said. "I guess we were just falling off in the second half."

La Salle actually outrebounded Kansas, 22-17, in the first 20 minutes.

"They killed us . . . on 50-50 balls and rebounding the first half," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "For us to be plus-10 after being dominated early is probably good. That's one of the better rebounding teams we'll play against this year."

Defensively, La Salle held KU senior Sherron Collins to one of the worst performances of his career. The senior preseason all-American selection scored just five points on 1-for-12 shooting.

Freshman and one-and-done possibility Xavier Henry scored a career-high 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting, though, and Cole Aldrich added 19.

"Someday Henry's going to shoot 1 for 10. That's what having a really good team is about," Giannini said. "It's going to be flip-flopped sometime. That's what makes them good."

The game was not without its highlights for La Salle (6-3). The Explorers matched the Jayhawks' offensive firepower in the first seven minutes, even taking a 17-16 lead seven minutes in.

"We had a lot of jitters," Williams said. "It's like the biggest stage you could be on - national television, playing the No. 1 team. It was fun."

La Salle could not overcome its mistakes, though, committing 10 first-half turnovers and making just two of seven free throws (29 percent) to fall behind by 15 at the break.

Williams also had a career-high 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting. His previous best was 15 points against Villanova this season.

Rodney Green posted 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. Yves Mekongo was the only other Explorer in double figures with 10.

Kimmani Barrett, who dislocated the middle finger on his non-shooting hand Friday, still started and played 36 minutes, scoring eight points.

"He's a gutsy kid," Giannini said. "He's really an important player for us. There's no telling how uncomfortable he was out there."

Philadelphia native Markieff Morris posted his first collegiate double-double, with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocked shots for Kansas (9-0). His twin, Marcus, contributed nine points and six rebounds.

"Coach told us when we came back that he'd never seen a team play better [than Kansas]," Williams said. "They have a lot of good players. We just came out here and gave our best shot."