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December 29, 2009

Belmont at Kansas Preview

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Kansas insists it will be ready when the schedule gets tougher. In the meantime, it will have to settle for what appears to be just another tune-up.

With a daunting stretch looming, the top-ranked Jayhawks look to extend their nation-best home winning streak to 50 games in a matchup with Belmont on Tuesday night.

Kansas (11-0), which remained the runaway No. 1 in this week's poll, is playing for the first time in seven days.

The Jayhawks' last two games have been at home against teams from major conferences, beating Michigan 75-64 on Dec. 19 and California 84-69 three days later. Eight of their previous nine games were against teams from lower-tiered leagues.

They have yet to beat a Top 25 foe and only one of the teams they have defeated currently has fewer than four losses. That one was their closest call of the season, beating Memphis 57-55 on Nov. 17.

Now Kansas faces the Atlantic Sun's Bruins (7-4) for the first time. Belmont has lost two straight after winning its previous six and now visits a Jayhawks team which has won 49 straight at home since a loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 3, 2007.

Three of Kansas' following five contests, though, are against teams that are currently ranked. The Jayhawks visit No. 18 Temple on Saturday and 14th-ranked Tennessee on Jan. 10 before hosting No. 20 Texas Tech on Jan. 16.

"We can play with the best and beat them," point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "Our schedule hasn't been the toughest, but when it's time to step up, we will."

Taylor has earned his way back into the starting lineup on a deep Jayhawks team after being benched in favor of freshman Elijah Johnson for two games. The sophomore was a starter for the first seven games, but had seven turnovers against Memphis followed by a few other sloppy performances.

Taylor has started two straight contests and has been solid in four games since being benched, posting 24 assists and two turnovers. He had 13 points and a season-high seven assists with one turnover versus the Golden Bears.

"I think I'm just playing a little bit smarter," Taylor said. "I'm not forcing up as much stuff and trying to be aggressive while playing slow at the same time."

Taylor is part of a three-guard lineup that includes Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins. Henry, a heralded freshman, is averaging a team-high 17.2 points while shooting 48.2 percent from 3-point range.

Collins is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.2 points. The senior is shooting 52.0 percent (13 for 25) and has totaled 36 points in two games after being held to five on 1-of-12 shooting in a 90-65 victory over La Salle on Dec. 12.

The Jayhawks are scoring 88.4 a contest while holding opponents to an average of 59.3 points and 34.9 percent shooting.

Belmont, facing a top-ranked team for the first time, has not played since shooting a season-worst 36.4 percent in a 63-60 loss to Eastern Illinois on Dec. 19.

Sophomore center Mick Hedgepeth made all four of his shots and finished with 10 points. He leads the Bruins with 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Hedgepeth is complemented in the frontcourt by senior Keaton Belcher, averaging 12.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. Belcher, though, has been held under 10 points in three straight games.



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