Kansas defense reinvents itself

Saturday, March 26, 2011


KU vs. Richmond

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Kansas defeated Richmond, 77-57, to advance the the Elite Eight on Friday, March 25, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 77-57 victory over Richmond on March 25, 2011.

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— The edict from Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self to his players in preparation for Friday night’s Southwest regional semifinal game against Richmond was twofold: 1. No layups off back-door cuts; 2. No three-pointers.

Then Self and assistant coach Joe Dooley spent three days changing their players’ basketball brains, altering where they stood in relation to the player they were guarding. Basically, instead of playing between the ball and your man, players were told to play between their man and the basket.

Had a quick guard adept at driving to the hoop and finishing, a Tyshawn Taylor-type player, driven against that defense, he might have scored 40 points because he would have blown by his defender and nobody would be there to help onto him. Instead of playing “down the line” in a position to help on drives to the hoop, the KU defenders blocked the cutters’ path to the hoop by staying in front of them. It frustrated the life out of the slower Spiders, who couldn’t compete and lost, 77-57, in the Alamodome, where Kansas feels right at home.

The Spiders didn’t have that Taylor type of guard, and they don’t take that approach to getting the ball inside. They get it there with back-door cuts, a door slammed shut by Kansas players who in three days of practice changed their minds so completely they allowed just one bucket on a back-door cut the entire game, and that was late, after the outcome had been decided and Tyrel Reed surrendered it.

Three-pointers? Richmond shot 26, most of them rushed, even desperate. The Spiders made just four of them. That’s a .154 three-point percentage for a team that brought a .414 mark into the game.

Other than Michigan, Kansas didn’t play a team all year that plays close to that style, and still it was able to execute its defensive game plan to near perfection and led at the half, 41-22.

That says a few things about a team that is one victory away from its second Final Four appearance in four years. It says it has a coaching staff that knows how to communicate its message, has players who have learned how to concentrate, and at least for the moment eliminate distractions, and it says the players aren’t just mentally quick, they’re physically jets as well.

Even in building a 35-2 record, this team hasn’t always look like one of Self’s best defensive units, but as the stage has grown, the defense has tightened. In reaching the Elite Eight, Kansas didn’t play a ranked team. Even so, the defensive improvement can’t be denied. The three-pointer is the equalizer for slower teams, and Kansas hasn’t allowed any of its opponents to do damage with it three games into the NCAA Tournament. Boston University, Illinois and Richmond have combined for a .264 three-point percentage. Richmond was the toughest test in that regard.

“They’re such a good passing team and so well coached it’s hard to guard that, but I think we did a pretty good job,” said senior forward Mario Little, one of many Jayhawks who played well off the bench. “We had to change our whole mind-set. Coach drilled that into us, to not lunge at the ball, to stay with your man, don’t cheat over and try to fake at it because as soon as you turn your head, it’s over with.”

Self didn’t limit his coaching to practice. His face ablaze with intensity, the coach at times didn’t just scream defensive instruction, he demonstrated it, sliding his feet as he was challenging his players to do the same, only far quicker in sneakers than he did it in shiny shoes.

Self said the skirmish between the Kansas and Richmond players in the hall a few minutes before tipoff was no big deal, but it might have been a big deal in a positive way, given how the Jayhawks started the game with such intensity.

“It’s hard to say we wouldn’t have played like that if that didn’t happen,” Little said. “We’ve been watching TV. It’s kind of hard not to play like that when guys are saying we can’t play against a matchup, just talking about us like we weren’t 32-2 coming into the tournament. So we were all turned up and paid attention to detail. Everybody was tuned in. Everybody was focused, and it showed. We concentrated on locking up and had fun with it.”

Might Kansas be in the midst of becoming as efficient defensively as offensively?

“Our offense is so good,” Little said. “I don’t know if we can ever catch up to that. Defensively, we’re making strides. In this tournament, there could be a day we’re not making shots, so we have to lock up our man and do the little things to get us over the hump.”