CHICAGO -- They have played six games and flown thousands of miles, and still have another long leg left in their early-season adventure.
Just when it seemed as if the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks had run out of gas last night here at the United Center, they found a second wind against fourth-ranked Cincinnati in the Great Eight Festival.
More importantly, they found a way of stopping Danny Fortson. Or, perhaps, the senior All-American found a way of stopping himself. When the 6-foot-7 forward got into foul trouble early in the second half, the Jayhawks got into the game. They turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a 72-65 victory over the Bearcats.
"They were two totally different ballgames," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, whose Jayhawks play at No. 17 UCLA on Saturday. "In the first half, they were much more aggressive. At the half, we talked that we just can't be intimidated. In the second half, we got the ball to the basket and we rebounded much better."
Without Fortson, Cincinnati did neither. The Bearcats watched Kansas (6-0) go on an 18-2 run that turned a 37-23 deficit into a 41-39 lead for the Jayhawks. Cincinnati had led by as many as 16 points in the first half, 29-13, because Kansas couldn't stop Fortson from having his way inside.
It was the second defeat in four games this season for Cincinnati, which lost its preseason top ranking when it was upset at home last week to cross-town rival Xavier. The Bearcats also had taken a beating in a national magazine story that that questioned the way Bob Huggins was running his program.
After taking out its frustration with a 40-point victory over Rutgers, Cincinnati appeared to be doing the same to Kansas in the first half. But the big lead the Bearcats had built evaporated when they went 7 1/2 minutes without scoring a basket, most of it with Fortson on the bench.
"We can't rebound the ball when he's not on the floor," said Huggins. "Darnell [Burton] is our second-leading scorer and he goes 2-for-17. If he doesn't make his shots, how are going to win? We tried to get Danny back in the game, but he sat at the scorer's table for two or three possessions. Next time I'll just get somebody to foul so I can get him back in."
Though Fortson returned to finish with game-high totals of 25 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 45 seconds to go, he couldn't stop Kansas. The Jayhawks built as much as a 10-point lead in the second half and never allowed the Bearcats to get within five.
Asked what effect his sitting out had on the way he played when he returned, Fortson said, "When you sit on the bench like that, you get all stiff. It was hard getting loose when I came back in."
Asked what effect Fortson's absence had on the outcome of the game, Kansas center Scot Pollard said, "If that's when we made our run, I guess it was very important."
With Fortson on the bench, Kansas was able to get the ball to Pollard inside and sophomore forward Paul Pierce on the wing. Pierce led the Jayhawks with 17 points and seven rebounds, and Pollard added 14 points and seven rebounds. Point guards Ryan Robertson and T.J. Pugh, playing in the absence of injured All-American Jacque Vaughn, combined for 10 points, six assists and five steals.
The first half was reminiscent of last year's season-ending NCAA tournament defeat to Syracuse in the West Regional final. The Jayhawks were not quite as cold shooting, but close, going eight of 30. "It seemed like 8-for-400," said Williams, who was just as unhappy with his team's defense.
Said Pollard, "We came out tentative -- we were intimidated. It seemed like we wanted to give up. We just needed a spark."
The spark was provided by Fortson's third foul, which came with 18: 33 remaining. The Jayhawks were able to match up with the suddenly cold-shooting Bearcats, and Pierce was virtually as unstoppable as Fortson had been earlier. The lead would grow to 10, 59-49, on a layup by Pierce with seven minutes left and Kansas never looked back.
"Kansas is a very good team," said Huggins. "They're No. 1 in the country. They deserve to be No. 1. They took the fight to us in the second half and we didn't respond. But those of you who write us off, we kind of like that. We'll be back in March."
Someone wanted to know if the Sports Illustrated cover story had affected the Bearcats adversely.
"That's not the reason we're losing," he said. "We are losing because some guys aren't stepping up."
L Cincinnati didn't do that last night, when Fortson sat down.
Pub Date: 12/05/96