FINAL FOUR 'Nickandkirk' key Jayhawks' run
The duo has helped lead Kansas to back-to-back Final Four appearances.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Sometimes, their names blend into one word -- "Nickandkirk" -- as though each were somehow half of a whole player.
Someone will ask Kansas coach Roy Williams about Nickandkirk's senior leadership, for example, or query an opposing coach about the challenge of stopping Nickandkirk.
Forward Nick Collison and guard Kirk Hinrich, a pair of coaches' sons from Iowa, are one of the most closely linked duos in the Jayhawks' long history.
It's largely because of them that Kansas is making back-to-back Final Four appearances for the first time since 1952-53.
Not even Marquette coach Tom Crean, whose team meets Kansas in the semifinals Saturday, could mention one without the other.
"When you sit down and really watch [Collison], to coach against him, it's amazing the versatility he has," Crean said. "He's going to be an excellent pro -- as I think Hinrich will, too."
The link between the two, Williams said, has less to do with their history than with their approach to the game.
"That is the common thread -- how competitive they are and how much they wanted their team to do well."
That approach -- to keep playing hard even when things aren't going well -- has served the Jayhawks well in the NCAA tournament.
Since Hinrich scored 24 points and Collison had 22 in a 108-76 rout of Arizona State in the second round, Kansas hasn't had a game in which both have finished in double figures.
Still, Kansas has made it because of both of them.
Hinrich scored only two points in a victory over Duke last Thursday, but it was no cause for panic. Collison had his best game ever, with 33 points and 19 rebounds.
Two nights later, Hinrich rebounded for 28 points in the regional final against Arizona. Collison, meanwhile, scored only eight.
"Nobody in our locker room enjoyed winning more than Kirk did on Thursday night," Williams said. "Nobody in our locker room enjoyed winning on Saturday more than Nick Collison did."
The two also pride themselves on the toughness that has kept Collison from missing even one game in four years and wouldn't let Hinrich give up when Kansas -- which began the season at No. 2 -- started 3-3 for the first time since 1979 and dropped all the way to No. 20.
"When you start off like that, when people are writing you off, it just gives you extra motivation," said Hinrich -- who has missed only one game himself, when a bad back kept him from playing against Division II Central Missouri State in December.
That's not to say the two are clones of each other.
Hinrich is the kind of guy who'll pump his fist and grin after hitting a 3-pointer against a Division II team.
Collison, after taking a pass from Jeff Graves and hitting an improbable left-handed layup against Duke, just looked back upcourt, pointed at Graves and nodded his thanks.