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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gameday Breakdown: No. 3 KU basketball at UNLV

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) defends against a shot from Nebraska guard Tai Webster (0) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) defends against a shot from Nebraska guard Tai Webster (0) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks (10-1) vs. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (7-5)

Time: 8 p.m. | Location: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

TV: CBS Sports Network | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @TomKeeganLJW @bentonasmith & @nightengalejr

Keys for Kansas

1. Have energy, will travel

Both freshman Josh Jackson and head coach Bill Self said one of the keys to KU’s clash with UNLV would be the Jayhawks’ ability to create their own energy right out of the gate.

Playing in a true road environment for the first time this season, the Jayhawks will not be able to rely on their adoring fan base the way they do at home and have in Honolulu, New York and Kansas City.

Instead, the Jayhawks will have to lean on each other and look to their coaches and the veterans to bring emotion and fire to a game that could be played in front of a small crowd. That will make players like Jackson, Devonte’ Graham and Carlton Bragg even more important in this one because all three have no problem showing fire and emotion on the floor during good times and bad.

“I think the key to this game is gonna be our defense and our energy,” Jackson said. “Playing away, we don’t always bring as much energy as we normally do because, playing here and in Kansas City, we can depend on the crowd to bring a lot of energy for us.”

2. Get a hand up

UNLV is not a great shooting team — the Rebels are hitting just .435 from the floor so far this season — but can get hot if they find rhythm early.

Marvin Menzies’ team is shooting .367 from 3-point range and has scored 89 points or higher in three games this season, two of them victories.

While Self always emphasizes man-to-man defense and routinely strives to keep opponents at or below 40 percent from the floor, that goal figures to be an even more important part of this one given UNLV’s track record of getting hot and shooting out of its mind on nights when opponents have led the Rebels find comfort on the offensive end.

“The biggest thing is to not allow them to get consistent,” Self said. “If they’re making shots, they’re capable of giving anyone problems, but they’ve also been very inconsistent.”

3. Free throw war

Not only is UNLV shooting a better percentage than Kansas from the free throw line (.720 vs. .600) but the Rebels also do a good job of getting to the line and keeping opponents from getting there.

So far this season, the Jayhawks have committed 25 more fouls than the Rebels in one less game and have not been able to capitalize on the charity shots themselves when they do get there.

Kansas has shown slow and steady improvement from the line in recent games, mostly because the right players have started getting to the line.

The Jayhawks have topped 70 percent from the line in a single game just three times this season — the season best came in the opener when KU shot .733 from the line vs. Indiana — but even in those games the Jayhawks still missed a combined 21 free throws.

Free points are important in any game, but certainly take on greater importance in road games against upset-minded teams looking for any way they can to take down the favorite.

Mega Matchup

The Jayhawks vs. Father Christmas

Although Kansas traditionally has fared well during December, there have been a couple of occasions when the Jayhawks laid an egg in late December right before the team parted ways for a few days of holiday celebrations with friends and family back home. Self made sure to stress just how important things like preparation, scouting report and finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule on a high-note were to the rest of the Jayhawks’ season. “We’ve had several teams that went home for Christmas emotionally before the game was actually played,” Self said. “And we’ve had some teams that didn’t do that. We’ll emphasize how important it is to keep some momentum going into the Christmas break.” With no-nonsense seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas leading the way, this experienced and mature Kansas team should have no trouble maintaining the proper mindset through Thursday’s game before heading off to sing carols and stuff stockings with family members.

Jayhawk Pulse

Coming off of what many believe was their best half of the season last Saturday night against Davidson, the Jayhawks will look to continue to pile up the points while using intense defense and extreme focus to improve their winning streak to 11 games heading into Big 12 Conference play.

Although UNLV is down this year and is in the middle of a major rebuilding project, the mere fact that it’s the Runnin’ Rebels and the game is being played in Las Vegas adds more than a little buzz to this one.

The Kansas offense has been on fire of late, having scored 89 points or more in six straight games, marking the first time the team has produced such a streak since topping 91 points six straight times in January of 1990.

Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham have been the main catalysts for KU’s offensive explosion, leading the team in points, assists, energy and attitude, but the Jayhawks’ role players also have contributed to the scoring onslaught, both in the half-court and in transition.

With the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup looking more and more comfortable and effective each night, the Jayhawks will look to continue to fine-tune their small ball approach while also hoping that the Kansas big men build on strong showings during the past few outings.

“I think we can get better,” Self said. “I think I can get better coaching, come up with some creative ways to do some things a little bit different. But the creative ways in this is changing the angle of the ball screen or getting more back-cutting in. It’s actually kind of fun. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Probable Starters

No. 3 Kansas

G – Frank Mason III, 5-11, 190, Sr.

G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Jr.

G – Josh Jackson, 6-8, 207, Fr.

G – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Jr.

F – Landen Lucas, 6-10, 240, Sr.

UNLV

G – Jalen Poyser, 6-4, 180, Soph.

G – Uche Ofoegbu, 6-4, 220, Sr.

G – Kris Clyburn, 6-6, 180, Soph.

F – Cheickna Dembele, 6-11, 235, Fr.

F – Tyrell Green, 6-7, 215, Sr.

Comments

Dave Miller 3 years, 6 months ago

Just saw on ESPN that Udoka tore some ligaments in his left wrist during Tuesday's practice and is out for the rest of the season. This certainly changes things in the line up, not only against UNLV, but for the season. Time for the bench to step up! Here is a link:

http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/18329373/udoka-azubuike-kansas-jayhawks-season-left-wrist-injury

Humpy Helsel 3 years, 6 months ago

Playing time for bigs just opened up. What? Around seventeen minutes per game? Who wants them? They are there for the taking. Time to step up, bigs.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 6 months ago

Udoka was only averaging around 13 minutes per game with 5 points and 4 rebounds. Also shooting just over 33% at the free-throw line.

Not saying in any way that Udoka will not be missed as he has been progressing game to game but if the other players rally it can at least diminish the loss.

Michael Leiker 3 years, 6 months ago

I would think fans show up pretty big for this one...I personally had the flight booked twice and had to cancel. It won't be a true road atmosphere

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 6 months ago

This isn't the way I wanted it to happen but our free-throw percentage is going to increase. I don't know how many people got to see Louisville/Kentucky but neither of those teams is tearing it up at the free-throw line.

I'm not up to crunching the numbers but it seems overall that free-throw shooting percentage has gone down over the years. No idea as to why or even if it's true but it seems that such an important way to get back in a game late or keep our lead isn't given more attention.

Not making any indictment on the program but more so on the individuals. If they have an obvious hitch in their shot then that's where the coaches should step in but otherwise practice practice practice.

Kent Richardson 3 years, 6 months ago

UK was in their first true road game and their freshman played like it. Monk did something not many can do and that's reduce his scoring from a previous game by 31 points. Fox is not an elite ball handler. UK shot 9 more FT's but only made 4 more, Not sure how many front ends were missed or made. And...

Both Louisville and UK received 6 points from their bench players.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 6 months ago

well, our bigs were non-existent from a scoring standpoint tonight. Coach Self said Dok was really coming on and we will miss him. No doubt.

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