Saturday, December 16, 2017

Notebook: Jayhawks improve defensively, struggle to score against zone

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) get up to reject a shot from Nebraska guard James Palmer Jr. (24) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) get up to reject a shot from Nebraska guard James Palmer Jr. (24) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Lincoln, Neb. — After getting torched by Arizona State in its last game out for 95 points and several drives right to the basket, the Kansas men's basketball team knew it needed to get tougher defensively if it wanted to get back on the winning track.

So did the Jayhawks deliver better defense on Saturday during a 73-72 roller-coaster victory over Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena?

For the most part, pretty much everyone in the KU locker room believed things did, in fact, get better.

“I think it was way better than it has been,” said senior point guard Devonte' Graham. “We still always can improve. I think our energy was there, though, especially defensively. We were all focused and locked in.”

Added Svi Mykhailiuk, who made the game's biggest offensive play of the season, a 3-pointer with 23 seconds to play that gave KU the lead for good: “I think we got a little bit better. Nebraska played really good today and made a lot of tough shots.”

That view, from two seniors, certainly carries some weight. But no one's opinion matters nearly as much as KU coach Bill Self. But he, too, believed the Jayhawks showed improvement on the defensive end of the floor, even if the stat sheet did not show it.

“We kind of picked our spots,” Self said. “... I thought our activity level was better. We only got eight steals but that's not a bad number against them. I thought Lagerald (Vick) was more active. Statistically, he didn't do a ton but he was one of the best players in the game.”

Vick finished with just nine points — 10 below his season average — but added five rebounds and three key steals in 37 minutes. Freshman Marcus Garrett also swiped two steals.

1-3-1 wrinkle

Heading into Saturday's victory in Lincoln, a lot of the talk was about how Kansas might look to play zone to improve its struggling defense and give the overworked regular rotation guys a bit of a rest.

But man-to-man remained the defense of choice for Self, who credited Nebraska's 1-3-1 zone as the wrinkle that nearly cost Kansas the game.

Although the Huskers did not play the active zone exclusively, they did do it at crucial times at the end of both halves.

In the second half, Kansas found a way to out-execute it after having seen it for an entire game.

But in the first half, it cost the Jayhawks potential points.

“I overcoached,” Self said after the win. “I should've never called a timeout to end the first half. Never. Because they went 1-3-1 and we didn't get a good shot. So we knew they'd go 1-3-1 late.”

Cunliffe debut

Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe made his highly anticipated debut in Saturday's victory and played 1:58 in the Kansas victory.

After checking into the game at the 6:38 mark of the first half, Cunliffe went back to the bench at the 4:40 mark after recording zeroes in every statistical category and knocking a defensive rebound away from Udoka Azubuike moments before checking out.

Still, despite the less-than-memorable debut, good buddy Mitch Lightfoot said he was happy to see Cunliffe get into the game.

“I thought that was good for him,” Lightfoot said. “First day back, obviously it's a process and I told him that after the game. And he's going to be fine. He's a great player and it'll come.”

Newman OK

Sophomore guard Malik Newman started and played 31 minutes in Saturday's win on the heels of suffering a concussion during the Jayhawks' most recent game.

Newman was limited this week in practice, but his teammates said they saw no ill effects of the concussion on a night when Newman finished scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting while adding six rebounds, two assists and a steal.

“I think he played really good defense and, at the end of the game, he made a really good drive,” Mykhailiuk said of Newman. “He didn't make it, but (Azubuike) put it back and it tied the game. He's healthy.”

Raleigh reunion

Saturday's showdown matched four Raleigh, N.C., natives who all played for the same AAU program against each other. Three Cornhuskers — Thomas Allen, Isaac Copeland and Anton Gill — against KU's Graham.

Three of the four also played at Brewster Academy prep school before heading to play major college ball.

Asked if he expected his old friends to give the Jayhawks such a tough game, Graham simply responded with, “I wasn't surprised at all.”

This and that...

Kansas is now 79-11 in the Bill Self era in games following a loss... KU has won 19 consecutive games against Nebraska dating back to 2004... The Jayhawks now lead the KU-NU series 172-71, including a 64-44 mark in games played in Lincoln. Self is 23-1 all-time against the Cornhuskers... Former Lawrence High standout Dorian Green was on Nebraska's bench during Saturday's game, serving as NU's graduate manager. Green, who started every game of his career and played for NU coach Tim Miles at Colorado State, also played against KU with the Rams back in 2010.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Nebraska

By the Numbers: Kansas 73, Nebraska 72.

By the Numbers: Kansas 73, Nebraska 72.


Tony Bandle 3 years, 3 months ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Whatever the reasons for his shaky position, I think the NU coach is doing a good job with this bunch of players and should be allowed to see them grow.

2] It seemed that KU got the benefit of the doubt on a number of charging/blocking calls.

3] At least Billy is dressed out and sitting on the bench. That has to be something of a positive.

4] A front line of Dok, Billy and HI Ho Silvio would be certainly intimidating! Not going to happen but it is fun conjecture.

5] Dok got blocked on a often would you expect to see that!!!

6] I really hope this team finds the right chemistry, gets some extra bodies and listens to what the coaches say again go ahead and win #14. That would be almost an other worldly accomplishment.

Dave Miller 3 years, 3 months ago

I agree with 1, 3, 4, & 5.

2 -- I don't think they really got the benefit of many. The Big10 officials were letting them play and weren't making the 50-50 calls. A bit more "physical" style of play in the Big10. Just my humble opinion, though.

6 -- I don't think it's so much chemistry as it is fatigue. I could be wrong. Maybe that's why I'm not making a gazillion dollars a year as big network analyst, but I think it's just a fatigue issue. A couple of extra bodies that can steal a couple of minutes for rest for the starters could go a long way.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 3 months ago

I thought that the refs kept us in the game with some questionable calls that went against Nebraska but I guess it's a matter of perception. I really believe that most referees are professionals and do their best but just like players might have an off night, so too can the referees.

Gary McCullough 3 years, 3 months ago

Stopping play when KU was on defense to allow Vick to put his shoe on is bizarre. That's a "homer" call.

Dale Stringer 3 years, 3 months ago

The only reason they stopped play was because it was inside the 3-pt line on the same side of the court that play was on. An object (the shoe) sitting in the middle of the court where 10 people are running around is a safety issue.

Craig Carson 3 years, 3 months ago

1) NU is better than their record 2)honestly, KU NEEDED some calls to go their way..they havent gotten any breaks..and the NU fans wouldnt have complained if their team had gotten those no sympathy here 3)Im glad to see him up cheering and not sulking..him being there is a positive cause it shows he thinks he is gonna play this season 4)I dont agree fully on this...I get the feeling Preston will play in the 2nd half of the season..DeSousa im not 100% sure he will even be effective even if he is made available 5)to be fair, the block came from behind..its not as if he went for a facial only to get his dunk sent back 6)unless they get some reinforcements, the streak ends this season

Marcia Parsons 3 years, 3 months ago

I agree on the fatigue, but poor Graham may be doomed to play 40 minutes all year. I thought it was nearly disaster the two minutes or so he was on the bench.

Andy Godwin 3 years, 3 months ago

On the money, when Graham is out this team struggles. Newman does not run the team as effectively as Devonte, so Self will continue to ride that horse as long as he can.

Michael Maris 3 years, 3 months ago

Right now, M. Newman isn't a very good player. Hopefully, my opinion will be changed as the season progresses.

Craig Carson 3 years, 3 months ago

hopefully he will give us all a reason TO change our opinion..if we are gonna be a thin team then ALL of our starters need to average about 12-15 PPG to make up for the lack of bench points

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 3 months ago

Marcus Garrett played 16 minutes, shot some of the worst bricks I've seen in quite some time and scored zero points. Newman played 31 minutes with zero points and 5 rebounds and a lot of goose eggs across the board.

So why only 2 minutes for Sam Cunliffe? He's been here a complete year and wasn't in long enough to get off a single shot. Does Self think that he needs to gently work them into the rotation? Will it be the same for Preston and Silvio IF they ever make it onto the court?

It also seems obvious that every team from here to the end of the season will play zone against us if for no other reason to change things up. Watching KU play against the 1-3-1 was as bad as against the 2/3. Self is too smart of a coach to not realize that we need to tweak our offense and stop trying to shoot over the zone but it seems we keep getting into that mentality instead of trying to get the ball down low or work through the low key and stick with it. As much as I admire Lightfoot's heart and toughness when the Azubuike is on the bench we are a completely different team.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 3 months ago

I agree Marius. Cunliffe needs to get more minutes when Newman is playing that poorly. Man him and Garrett were missing shots by a mile, Svi too many times.

Craig Carson 3 years, 3 months ago

the issue with Garret and Newman is they either shoot 3's or they drive it right into a defender and get blocked..both if them need to focus on taking their shots closer to the rim..better chance of them getting fouled and making a few shots...but we cant have any of our started put up zero points..Newman is too talented to have games like this....

Steve Johnson 3 years, 3 months ago

What was most impressive to me was they found a way to win in a hostile arena. they were not great nor impressive but a one point win and strong Defense by Dok to block the game winning shot will do wonders for their confidence. Much rather struggle and win by 1 than those 40 point blow outs where every shot goes in.

Cedric Spire 3 years, 3 months ago

Well allowed them to shoot 49.2%. how was our D better?

Barry Weiss 3 years, 3 months ago

I was going to post that too. Sure, we did not give up 95 points, but we usually lose when we allow an opponent to shoot 50%. Typically we shoot at 50% and hold the opponent to 40%.

Craig Carson 3 years, 3 months ago

it was better from a standpoint that they seemed to have more steals and force more bad shots...but they still allowed NU to shoot a higher % than they will probably shoot all year

Allin Herring 3 years, 3 months ago

If as Dave Miller says it is fatigue, then why did Sam play only 2 MINUTES? If it is fatihue then why do we not change up the defense a little with some zone ourselves? The only one that can answer that is Self himself! He was the one who put us into the fatigue problem with his recruitment of a player with issues and a bunch of players who will not help us until next year!

Craig Carson 3 years, 3 months ago

whoa there buddy...Self is NOT clairvoyant..he has no way of knowing if a kid has some issues..and as of right now we really dont know if Preston has done anything wrong or far as the transfers, they will be huge next season, BUT KU had 5 big men on the roster shortly before the season, then 3 of them decided to cowardly transfer..leaving KU with just 2 bigs..that is in no way Selfs only guess as in why Cunliffe didnt play more was because the game was tight and Self wanted the guys in there that he trusted...but I agree with you about the would be a good move if only to save the players some energy

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