Julian Wright has a special name for the kind of performance he had Saturday.
“He was talking the whole game, something about he was going to come out in a ‘beast mode’ again,” Jayhawks guard Brandon Rush said. “And, once again, he did it again. I’m pretty proud of him. He’s the only person I know who scored 30 points on this team.”
Wright scored a career-high 33 points and tied a career-high with 13 rebounds. Wright said he enters his “beast mode” when he is playing more aggressively and hustling harder for rebounds. He also had a combined 12 dunks and layups, getting resistance from Missouri only a few times, at most.
Probably the most spectacular moment of Wright’s game was his two-handed dunk over Tigers center Kalen Grimes with 1:58 remaining in the first half. Instead of going for the block, Grimes stood in front of the basket hoping for a charge. Wright was able to jump and reach over Grimes and dunk the basketball, drawing a blocking foul. The dunk gave No. 9 Kansas a 13-point lead and was also a microcosm of Wright’s, and Missouri’s, game, with Grimes only able to watch the Kansas forward make another big play.
“He played great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The biggest reason he played great was because he was great on the glass. He was a loose-ball guy, finishing strong around the rim. I don’t know how many baskets he made outside of three or four feet.”
Wright, however, was eager to compliment his teammates, players he said were just as responsible for Kansas’ 92-74 win as he was.
“I was just fortunate to be on the end of a lot of heady plays of our guards by breaking the press,” Wright said. “It takes a lot of guts to get through a press for 40 minutes.”
Wright wasn’t the only Kansas player who had one his best games. Rush equalled his season-high by scoring 21 points on only 10 shots. He also made all three of his 3-point attempts, which were the only 3-pointers Kansas (21-4, 8-2 Big 12) made.
Combined, Wright and Rush scored 54 points on 22-for-33 shooting. Both statistically and talent-wise, Kansas appeared to be a tough match-up coming in for the Tigers. Allowing Wright and Rush to do what they did made it even more difficult for Missouri (14-9, 3-7) to be competitive with the Jayhawks. Maybe even impossible.
“You can’t have two players on the same team with one scoring 33 and one scoring 21 and expect to beat any team,” Grimes said. “When you got players in double-figures like that, it’s hard to win. Especially two good players.”
Before the season began, Wright and Rush were named the Big 12’s preseason Co-Players of the Year. While the postseason version of the award will probably be won by Texas’ Kevin Durant, they entered Saturday’s game averaging a combined 25.6 points per game on one of the conference’s best teams.
But Self said he wasn’t sure if Wright and Rush had ever combined to play a better game than they did against the Tigers.
“I would probably say no,” Self said. “Those two allow us to be a pretty good team potentially, because we know their ceiling is pretty high when we play. They were good today.”
As good as Wright and Rush were, Missouri players said they were just as bad at stopping the Kansas pair. In the team’s first meeting this season, the Tigers held Wright and Rush to a combined 22 points. On Saturday, Wright had matched that total on his own halfway into the second half.
“We were just letting them do what they want,” Tigers guard Keon Lawrence said. “It was like we were scared to guard them or something. We were just letting Julian Wright and Brandon Rush go everywhere, getting rebounds, catch alley-oops. Doing whatever they want.”
Grimes said the Tigers “slacked on their defense.”
“We try to pride ourself on our defense,” Grimes said. “That’s not what happened (Saturday).”
Lawrence said he didn’t know why the Tigers couldn’t stop Wright and Rush, especially after holding them in January.
“We gotta get tough. Some individuals gotta get tough,” Lawrence said.