Friday, March 17, 2017

Notebook: Jayhawks play ‘best defense that we’ve played all year’ in win over UC Davis

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


— On a night when the Kansas men’s basketball team reached the century mark for just the second time this season, all anybody wanted to talk about was the Jayhawks’ defense.

Using suffocating ball pressure, a dominant showing on the glass and the kind of effort you might expect from a team that laid an egg, defensively, in its last game out, the top-seeded Jayhawks rolled to a 100-62 victory over No. 16 seed UC Davis Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at BOK Center.

“We played the best defense that we’ve played all year tonight,” said KU freshman Josh Jackson, who added seven rebounds, a block and a steal to his 17-point night. “I think it just shows us how important defense is because tonight really showed that defense will make offense a lot easier for us.”

After losing in the Big 12 quarterfinals eight days earlier, against a TCU team that did not make the NCAA Tournament field, most of the public emphasis was on playing loose, free and having fun. Behind closed doors, however, the Jayhawks drilled defense, over and over until its importance fully registered.

“Defense was stressed since Day One, but definitely since we took that loss to TCU,” said senior guard Frank Mason III, who, once again, led Kansas with 22 points, eight assist and five rebounds. “We just wanted to get out there and really practice hard and focus on the defensive end.... I just told the guys we gotta play every possession like it’s tied and game point.”

While all five starters reached double figures in scoring, it was the Jayhawks’ defense that knocked the Aggies out. Few players took Mason’s advice to heart like junior Devonte’ Graham, who swiped four steals and helped set the tenacious defensive tone anytime anyone brought the ball near him.

“That whole week of practice that we had, the main focus that was defense,” Jackson said.

No call before halftime

As the two teams left the floor after the halftime horn during Friday’s KU victory, Self visited with an official who, he thought, missed a call when Graham was knocked down as KU attempted to set up the last shot in the final seconds.

“I just asked him, ‘Why wasn’t that a foul?,’” Self said after the game. “And he said, ‘(The defender) has the same right to the ball.’ I said, ‘In the NFL, a defensive back coach would’ve been happy with that play.’ But he came and told me the second half that he missed it. I think he thought he got it right but he said he got swallowed up. He was too close to see it.”

Good day at the office

After missing their first four 3-pointers of the night, the Jayhawks drained 11 of their next 21 shots from behind the arc and finished 11-of-25 for the game for 44 percent.

It marked KU’s best 3-point shooting night since Feb. 27 vs. Oklahoma and also proved to be just what the doctor ordered for Svi Mykhailiuk (5-of-10 overall, 2-of-7 from 3-point range) and Graham (4-of-7, 4-of-7), who both had struggled with their shot during recent weeks.

“You always, as a shooter, want to see the ball go through the hoop and seeing it go through it just kind of gives you that momentum going into next game,” Graham said. “Once one of us make a three, all of us get that same momentum and we kind of just flow.”

Nice gesture

Although very few people in BOK Center cheered the UC Davis team when they took the floor at the start of Friday’s game, the Aggies were escorted off the floor by a standing ovation and rousing cheer from the large KU crowd in Tulsa.

“Fans are great,” Graham said. “We know they’re gonna travel no matter where we are. We love the support and it was nice that we weren’t too far from home.”

The gesture was far from one-sided. After meeting with the media following the loss, UC Davis players Brynton Lemar (17 points, 2 rebounds) and Chima Moneke (20, 9) found themselves walking past the Kansas locker room. While Lemar marveled at the horde of media members surrounding Self in the hallway, Moneke stopped, tapped him on the shoulder and said simply, “Go win it all, coach.”

This and that...

Friday’s meeting marked the first ever between Kansas and UC Davis.... KU now has recorded 29 victories or more 14 times, with eight of those 14 29-win seasons coming under Self.... Kansas has won 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament opening-round games and is 32-2 in the Round of 64 since 1981.... KU is now 101-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 31-12 in the Big Dance under Self.

By the Numbers: Kansas 100, UC Davis 62

By the Numbers: Kansas 100, UC Davis 62

— See what people were saying about the game during's live coverage.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. UC Davis


John Fitzgerald 3 years, 11 months ago

I'm happy to see us win, but this was probably the worst team we've played all year. Just imagine if the best 68 teams in the nation actually made the NCAA tournament. Interesting to say the least.

Robin Smith 3 years, 11 months ago

You're essentially right. For those curious, by the kenpom metrics, UC Davis is ranked 219, which is KU's 3rd weakest opponent this season and only one spot behind UMKC, who was beaten by an eerily similar score of 105-62.

That being said, KU looked good without looking close to their best. I'm pleased with this one and not just for the outcome.

To your latter point, I think having lowly-rated teams in the tourney is just the trade off for agreeing to be early-season cannon fodder; otherwise, what incentive do those programs have necessarily to routinely play the sacrificial lamb?

Plus, it's the perk of getting a 1-seed. It's the least we can get since the tourney more than doubled its size. If Bill Self coached in an era when the tourney begins at the Elite Eight, then he'd very likely have a handful of national championship rings to add to his collection.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 11 months ago

You could say the same about Roy Williams or Larry Brown. They also coached in the era of the 64-team field.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 11 months ago

"otherwise, what incentive do those programs have necessarily to routinely play the sacrificial lamb?"

The biggest incentive of all, MONEY.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 11 months ago

Having "the best 68 teams" would mean that you'd eliminate the hope for the little guy, and that's worth not having the bottom half of a major conference or whatever whiny NIT team.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 11 months ago

Cal Davis was the winner of the Big West Conference Tournament plus they won their play-in game. They deserved to be there unless you think we should get rid of conference tournaments.

Although I think the regular-season conference champion is better than the conference tournament champion (unless they are the same), conference tournaments bring in a lot of excitement and more importantly, money. If you get rid of the conference tournament, there would probably be more upsets in the NCAA tourney and maybe more excitement.

Personally, I like the way it is now. Even if the best 68 teams aren't in the tournament, the top 50 teams are in.

Joe Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

"KU is now 101-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 31-12 in the Big Dance under Self."

I didn't realize that if Coach Self had two more wins at this point, he'd have a third of all the wins in the NCAA tournament for Kansas. Why do we want to fire him again?

Dirk Medema 3 years, 11 months ago

Didn't you hear the sky is falling and we don't have the best recruiting class - for this year or next?

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 11 months ago

It's been a while since I've heard anyone calling on Self to be fired. You'll probably get a few if we fall short of the Final 4.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 11 months ago

Love that they seem to be getting it (D) now. They've shown in spurts that they have plenty of D-ability, but it is great that they are realizing that easier O comes from harder D. That's when it becomes really fun.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 11 months ago

Like the good sportsmanship by KU fans and Moneke. I felt that it was going to be a huge mismatch given UC Davis' lack of size, but they never gave up, and Moneke is a good player.

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