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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Defense key to Kansas title defense

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) tips a three from TCU guard Jaylen Fisher (0) with seconds left in regulation, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) tips a three from TCU guard Jaylen Fisher (0) with seconds left in regulation, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

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Well-run plays and clutch shots from thrilling games tend to echo the longest and loudest. Yet, as Kansas has shown in winning most of its cliffhangers this season, sound defense plays just as big a role.

“We all understand it comes down to stops,” reserve center Mitch Lightfoot said Thursday. “If you can’t stop the other team, you’re most likely not going to win. We all want to win here, so defense is our main focus.”

It is now, but it didn’t look to be the case earlier in the season, when Kansas went through a 4-3 streak that included a pair of double-digit losses in Allen Fieldhouse.

The source of improvement?

“I think it’s just in practice, we’re taking every possession seriously and realizing that defense is what’s going to help us win more and more games,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve really bought into it now.”

Kansas started to look like a tough defensive team down the stretch of close games.

In the final 5:53 of the tighter-than-expected 83-78 victory against Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse, the Cyclones made 2 of 7 shots and committed three turnovers.

In the last 2:50 of a 70-67 home escape versus Baylor, KU scored the last nine points and the Bears shot 0-5, with four of the attempts by Manu Lecomte.

In coming from behind to defeat West Virginia in Morgantown, Kansas finished 20-6 in the final 5:53, as the Mountaineers hoisted seven 3-pointers, making one.

Coach Bill Self surprised Kansas State in Manhattan by playing a 2-3 zone for much of the game, and the Wildcats shot .323 overall and .222 on 3-point attempts.

“Like coach always says, ‘Defense travels,’ ” shooting guard Malik Newman said. “That’s another reason we’ve been great on the road.”

Lightfoot’s improvement has enabled Udoka Azubuike to play with less of an eye toward foul trouble. Lightfoot has blocked 16 shots in 113 minutes in Big 12 play and still knows he can improve defensively in multiple areas.

“Ball screens are certainly something that’s harder to defend, but I’d have to say, when we’re running a 2-3 (zone), rebounding out of a 2-3 is something we really need to work on, because you don’t really have a man to box out," Lightfoot said. "There are a couple of offensive players running in there to get rebounds, so you have to pick and choose who you’re going to box out, know the tendencies, know who’s going to crash, know who’s not, know who’s a better rebounder, know who’s not.”

That requires homework, something these basketball students don't seem to mind doing.

Comments

Dirk Medema 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It is a total misnomer to refer to Mitch as a center. He may be in the middle and replacing our (1 and only) center when he subs in, but he's still nothing more than a 4 at this level.

One thing that I have been really impressed with lately is Dok's ball screen D. The high picks seem to be totally ineffective for the opposition. No G drives to the hoop. No rolls to the hoop. No jump shots for the guard. No jump shots for the Big. Dok just takes up a lot of space in just the right place. Or at least that what it seems to me.

Steve Zimmerman 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Yup. All he does just spread his legs, side to side, doesn't even try to steal the ball. G still drive to the hoop but will be thrown to the ground by Dok!!

Allan Olson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Best defense stops layups/dunks by both outside and inside foes. Next comes stopping offensive rebounds. Mixing defenses in tight games seems to be a good strategy. Make teams beat you with perimeter shooting and limiting second chance rebounding. Maybe we're finally showing our talents in those directions. One plus for a zone is that Dok should then not normally be pulled out of the lane so often. He gets too many cheap, silly fouls chasing on the perimeter.

Bryce Landon 8 months, 3 weeks ago

For the last several seasons, starting with the 2013-14 season, I have always felt like Kansas' defense hasn't been worth talking about like it used to be. But based on the stats presented in this article, it seems KU is finally getting back to what made it great under Bill Self - defense.

Mallory Briggans 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I've been out the loop since the OU loss.....anywho now that Preston is gone will there be a release on what the NCAA findings were....basically Preston s decision closed the case but i would be interested in their findings...

Barry Weiss 8 months, 3 weeks ago

we were told "don't count on getting any info" which sort of sucks.

Marcia Parsons 8 months, 3 weeks ago

They probably still didn't have any findings, and just dumped the whole thing since it no longer mattered.

Harlan Hobbs 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Great article, and good observation Bryce. Most years, Coach Self decries the lack of defense early on in the season. However, it always seems to motivate the players, and I can't recall even one Bill Self team that wasn't playing pretty darn good defense by the middle of the conference season. It perhaps is the single most important factor in the 13 (hopefully soon to be 14) straight championships.

By contrast, I look as the other Big 12 programs, and I don't see the same trend. For example, just about every year, people talk about the "vaunted" Baylor zone. Yet, KU seems to handle it pretty well, especially in Waco, where you would expect it to be effective.

A bigger example is West Virginia. Every year, they have to rely on a pressure defense to help mask an average offense. Lately, their pressure defense hasn't been nearly as effective as witnessed by KU's victory in Morgantown and additional losses on the road, most recently at Iowa State this week.

There probably are a number of factors in WVU's slump, but I just hope that it continues, at least when they come to AFH.

In short, KU has consistently been the best defensive team in the conference, and it shows.

Barry Weiss 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Hoping for a Longhorn win this week-end and ours to make a double state of Oklahoma loss(s)

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