Jayhawks’ stock rises as Chalmers’ jersey hits the rafters

It was a special night in the Fieldhouse with Mario Chalmers’ number rising into the rafters.

The arena showed off a blend of old and new schools  in Kansas’ 73-47 victory over Texas.

Chalmers walked onto Naismith court at halftime and gave a well-thought out speech to the sellout crowd just after the cord had been pulled to reveal his jersey.

George Mullinix/KANSAN At halftime of Saturday's game, Mario Chalmers' addresses the crowd after his jersey's retirement.

George Mullinix/KANSAN
At halftime of Saturday’s game, Mario Chalmers’ addresses the crowd after his jersey’s retirement.

On the other hand the videos scrolled across the board hanging over the court with booming sounds blasting out of the speakers exciting the student section and possibly the recruits sitting in the stands.

And for the most part the game on the floor did not match the intensity surrounding it. Kansas cruised to a comfortable lead thanks to its defense and the Longhorns’ inability to knock down open shots.

That all changed when freshman guard Ben McLemore made a whirlwind 360 dunk with 4:11 remaining, raising the Kansas fans out of their seats before driving home for the night.

“I didn’t think he was going to try to do that,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He slowed down to go off too, and I was like ‘What is he doing,’ and then he did it.”

Although McLemore’s highlight slam rivaled the performances of the pros in the slam dunk competition in the NBA, the  much improved play by senior Elijah Johnson kept Kansas in the free flowing momentum they showed against Kansas State last Monday.

“When you’re having fun you don’t have to listen to the scouting report,” Johnson said. “When you’re having fun you don’t have to know the plays. When you’re having fun you don’t have to know nothing. You just have to go out there and play and that’s what were doing right now we’re just playing.”

Johnson had one of his better nights in recent weeks, scoring with 13 points while also grabbing five boards and dishing out three assists. Most importantly, Johnson limited himself to a single turnover for the evening.

What also might have helped Johnson was the return of Chalmers and the other current and former NBA players in town because of All-Star weekend.

Still Johnson knows he can rely on all his former teammates as he went through his struggles.

“Mario doesn’t have to be here to talk,” Johnson said. “He’ll text me and let me know what they’re thinking. I feel like having all those guys around brought energy. It just comes along with it. It’s a good feeling that shoots through your body.”

Another milestone moment reached tonight for Kansas came when senior center Jeff Withey surpassed Texas’ Chris Mihm for the Big 12 blocks record with the 265th block of his career.

“I put a lot of hard work into getting it,” Withey said. “I have a lot more games to play so hopefully I can add something to it and make sure it doesn’t get touched for 20-something years.”

Withey also put together his ninth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds to go along with his two blocks.

The other leading scorer for the Jayhawks was senior Travis Releford who knocked down four of his five 3-point attempts on the night while also helping to lead the team to one of its better defensive efforts of the season.

The Longhorns made 12 shots and shot 21.8 percent for the night.

“It was one of those good solid games, nothing special, but one of those game we are happy get a win,” Self said.

Now the Jayhawks’ focus turns to a crucial matchup against Oklahoma State on Wednesday night, a game where their best effort will be needed to avenge their lone home loss of the season.

“We put ourselves in a very tough position knowing there’s very little margin for error, but the guys usually respond favorably when the stage is pretty bright,” Self said.

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  • Updated Feb. 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm
  • Edited by Brian Sisk