Kansas’ Thomas Robinson may not have had much experience as a starter entering 2011-12, but he’s already playing like a longtime fixture of the starting five.
Two storied programs face off in the Maui Invitational semifinals on Tuesday night when Robinson and the 14th-ranked Jayhawks take on UCLA.
The Jayhawks (2-1), who shot 33.9 percent in the loss to the Wildcats, had some shooting struggles against the Hoyas as well before pulling away late. Robinson finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds while Tyshawn Taylor added 16 points.
Robinson, who averaged 5.1 points and only started three games over his first two seasons, has three double-doubles already as a junior while averaging 16.3 points and 11.7 rebounds.
His inside presence has helped the Jayhawks get off to a respectable start despite the losses of Marcus and Markieff Morris, Josh Selby and several other key players from last season.
Junior guard Travis Releford has also stepped up despite limited starting experience. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds Monday, hitting two key free throws in the final 16 seconds.
“Travis made about three great plays for us to ice the win,” coach Bill Self said. “He did a lot of good things late. He needed that individually and we needed that, too.”
Releford, who averaged 3.2 points in his first two seasons, has scored 9.3 per game thus far for the Jayhawks as a junior.
UCLA (1-2) advanced to the semifinals with a 92-60 win over Division II Chaminade on Monday, its first win of the season after losing to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee by a combined 31 points and falling out of the Top 25. They Bruins 38.9 percent in their losses and got off to a slow start Monday, but shot 57.6 percent in the second half (19 of 33) to pull away.
Lazeric Jones scored 19 points and Jerime Anderson added a career-high 18, connecting on four 3-pointers. UCLA held a 49-27 advantage on the boards and held the Silverswords to 29.8 percent shooting.
Junior forward Reeves Nelson, suspended for the Middle Tennessee game for “conduct unbecoming,” according to coach Ben Howland, returned Monday in a reserve role and finished with one point and five rebounds in 11 minutes.
“I was really pleased with his energy that he brought to the team tonight when he got his chance to get in there,” Howland said.
Nelson, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the loss to Loyola Marymount, has struggled to shed the reputation of having a bad attitude. He averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds last season.
UCLA starting forward David Wear, who averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds the first two games, missed Monday’s contest with a concussion suffered in practice last week.
Kansas has won its last two meetings with UCLA, including a 77-76 win last December on a last-second free throw.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Howland said. “This is kind of like you’re playing a conference tournament in the middle of November.”