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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Tom Keegan: No Udoka, no problem for a day for Kansas

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) laughs on the bench with his teammates during the second half, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) laughs on the bench with his teammates during the second half, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

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Kansas City, Mo. — The challenge for the Kansas basketball emergency tandem at center: Find a way to prevent the other team’s garbage men from exploiting Udoka Azubuike’s absence by becoming stars for a day.

Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa pulled that off admirably during Thursday’s 82-68 quarterfinal victory against Oklahoma State in a Big 12 tournament quarterfinal played in front of 17,903 in Sprint Center.

They prevented the Cowboys’ big men from winning the game so that Kansas guard Malik Newman’s 30 points determined the outcome.

Lightfoot and De Sousa combined for 14 points, 14 rebounds and nine personal fouls in 38 minutes. They kept the Cowboys’ center duo of Mitchell Solomon and Yankuba Sima (a combined 21 points, seven rebounds and three fouls) from throwing a party with the biggest man in the building unable to do anything about it, thanks to a Grade 1 medial-collateral ligament sprain.

Lightfoot and De Sousa didn’t have the luxury to bend over at the waist and regain their breaths after Azubuike’s practice injury, which amounted to a punch in the gut at a rough time to take one. They needed to get to work at figuring out how they would minimize the damage of the injury that occurred late in Tuesday’s practice.

“Obviously, it sucks,” Lightfoot said. “I think we all know that. It’s pretty obvious, but next man up has always been our theory. This team’s done a great job of taking adversity and using it for good and playing harder because of it.”

Billy Preston’s car, the sponsorship of which never could be explained adequately enough for him to play college basketball beyond the exhibition season, already had thinned the ranks up front.

A Kansas basketball superpower that typically has four or five capable big men for the moment is down to two, and one of them started the season playing high school basketball. Talented big men are so rare in high school that learning how to defend the way college players must — hedging ball screens, defending your man before the catch — is secondary to staying out of foul trouble.

De Sousa’s lack of refinement shows defensively, but his college-ready physique, considerable athleticism and eagerness to hunt down missed shots make him KU’s best rebounder.

De Sousa played 15 minutes Thursday and had six points, eight rebounds and just one turnover.

“I thought he played great,” Lightfoot said of De Sousa. “Silvio’s a freak athlete. He can get to rebounds that most people can’t. I’m really excited for him to see it all click.”

More than quickness, explosiveness and muscle make De Sousa a good rebounder.

“I love to jump,” said De Sousa, a native of Angola who spent 3 1/2 years playing at IMG Academy in Florida. “Rebounding is something where I’m jumping all the time, so I love to rebound.”

You can’t rebound from the bench.

“It’s always great when you get a lot of minutes,” he said. “It just means the coach trusts you.”

De Sousa checked into the game with 15:39 left in the first half and, after a bad foul, checked back out 47 seconds later. He was upset, but not with the coach.

“Early in the game I made a mistake like I used to in my very first games, make a simple mistake and come out of the game,” De Sousa said. “Today I did the same thing when I just got in the game, I fouled, and he took me out. Then I just kept my head, told myself, 'Coach is right. He can’t keep me on the floor when I’m making those types of mistakes, so he took me out,' and then he put me back in the game and I just started to do what he wants.”

He chased every rebound and came away from the game determined to do a better job defending.

His biggest weakness at this point?

“Defense,” he said. “My hedge defense, always I’m kind of late. … Right now when guys set ball screens I’m always a little late to hedge it. I’m going to work on it to try to get better.”

He also wants to improve at what he does well already.

“I think I rebounded the ball a lot,” De Sousa said. “I could have done a lot more. I could have gotten more 50-50 balls, and I’m focused on doing better tomorrow.”

Lightfoot made some mistakes as well. He fouled out in 23 minutes and produced eight points and six rebounds. Two of his fouls came on illegal screens, another on a 3-point shooter, another after he wrapped his arms around an opponent in the high post.

It wasn’t a tidy performance, but he played with a contagious energy and willed his way to a strong effort on the boards.

“We were beaten by this team twice and we weren’t going to let it happen a third time,” Lightfoot said. “We wanted it for our fans and we wanted it for each other. We just went out there and fought.”

Kansas State will bring that mindset in the semifinal matchup that tips off at 6 p.m. Friday, but Lightfoot doesn’t anticipate any regression in the Jayhawks’ effort.

“I think they’ll be pretty jacked up to play,” he said of the Wildcats. “It’s the Sunflower Showdown. Everyone in the state of Kansas is pretty excited for it. If you don’t have energy to play in those kinds of games, I’m not sure you can get excited at all.”

Comments

Len Shaffer 3 months, 2 weeks ago

"Azubuike’s practice injury, which amounted to a punch in the gut at a rough time to take one ..."

Actually, I would argue that (assuming the injury is minor) it was a pretty GOOD time for it to happen.

If it had happened a couple of weeks ago, KU might not have won the conference. And of course if it happened next week, it would be the worst timing of all. The only time that would have been better than now would have been the non-conference season.

On another note, it's interesting that you didn't mention the two clutch charges that Mitch took, given that there's another article on this site about him taking them.

Dirk Medema 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Non-conference would have been the worst time, or really any time before February. This situation is all about Silvio getting a chance to play valuable minutes. Sure, let's try to win, but this tourney is the same as non-con. It is just practice for the bigger prize, whether that be the Conference regular season title or the NCAA NC. Not having Dok to fall back on was a huge blessing, and so was Mitch's boneheaded repeated moving screens (Twice in one game? Seriously?). If Coach has any other option, Silvio doesn't get to go back in and get battle tested. This is about getting a rebounding machine at just the right time, He's got enough team time to be competent in general, and then solve the team's biggest need. A double-double from the 5 with our shooters will go a long ways.

Where are the quitters that were ready for next season?

Gerry Butler 3 months, 2 weeks ago

LOL Dirk you mean the quitters that was saying " Welp that's it - - Season over " - -OR " Were done " - - OR " So much for that " ? - - I don't know - - I don't see any of them do you? -- Yet IF we should happen to lose today, you can take it to the bank they will flood this page and say See told you our season was in the crapper - - They will say Mitch shouldn't see the floor - -Or Silvio isn't gonna grasp how to play till NEXT YEAR - -OR how Coach Self doesn't know how to adapt. - -Ya there will be the losers trying to strut and talk smack then - -the ideal closet couch pot bellied beer drinking cigar smoking hoagie sandwich Coaches roflmao. - I hear you perfect I'm right there with ya man

Tony Bandle 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Another aspect of De Sousa no one mentions is his foul shooting. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think he something like 10 for 10 this season and every foul shot he's made that I have seen looks exactly the same. Relatively a flat arch with a gentle touch, boom right into the hoop.

Kent Richardson 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Not correcting you because you are wrong (ha) but an asset we need to recognize. Pretty good stats from Silvio.

Silvio is 7 out of 9 on FT's. 77,8%

12 out of 19 FG's. 63.2%

(ESPN)

Mike Greer 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Tony, I do recall him missing one and I was surprised as he appears very comfortable at the line. But, no one makes them all. I don't have the numbers, but I'd wager he's an eighty plus percent free throw shooter. And that's a huge plus, especially when the end of the game is near. Where Dok is 77% from the field and 40 or so from the line, Silvio is maybe just about the opposite. In just a couple of months, he's gone from playing against fifteen year old kids to playing against some of the best twenty year old men in the country, what a giant step.

Love Dok, and the way he's progressed with his game, and I love the effort from Mitch, but Silvio can rebound and make free throws, he's going to be a real asset down the stretch and next year.

Joe Joseph 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Silvio seems like a bright guy. I like that he's very aware of his shortcomings and not afraid to critique himself.

Bill Lamson 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Great point Tom about the lack of talented true big men in high school. I don't think most people realize that...how little focus there is at the HS level to coaching up/teaching big men to play the post. As someone who has seen club level youth bball for a while, I can tell you that the amount of time most coaches spend teaching any of their players how to play in the post is literally almost zero, which is ridiculous. And even if they do have a player who could play that position, they often just ignore that part of the game....and one excuse I hear is that they don't know whether or not the player will continue to develop/grow into a true big man frame, so they don't want to waste their time teaching them skills they may not be able to keep using. So when that player gets to be a junior or senior in HS, and fully developed, they've had almost no coaching on how to play the position. And making it even tougher is the fact that the AAU circuit is all about playing more and more games with far few practices...so less time to teach post skills, and less time to teach his teammates how to get him the ball...which is another thing I often see. Even on the teams with a good big man he rarely gets the ball because the guards don't know how to feed him...which is maddening but its directly related to the fact that they just don't practice it.
So it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that we often have to go overseas to find a talented center...Dok, Silvio, Joel, Sasha..

Barry Weiss 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Silvio could be one of those golden 4 year guys that come along every now and then. Sure he may develop into a player we lose earlier to the NBA, but for a freshman, he is coming along nicely.

Harlan Hobbs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Would love Silvio to be a 4 year player, but it ain't going to happen. He'll be in the pros long before then.

Jerry Mahner 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Great win without Dok, we panic when it happens and lament the end of the season, and then champions step up.

Alan Dickey 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't mean to seem heretical, but it seems to me that (sometimes) the team plays better with Silvio or Mitch in the game instead of Dok. I think it is because the ball seems to stick in Dok's hands. When Dok gets the ball, even where, as usual, he ultimately makes the best play option (pass back out to a guard; go in for the dunk; etc...), it seems like it takes him a while to decide what to do and then to do it. With Mitch, and now especially Silvio, it seems like the ball get stuck in their hands less often and for less time, and I think that makes us more difficult to guard. Dok definitely scores at a higher rate (per minute) than either Mitch or Silvio, but one objective reason for my subjective perception about Silvio may be:

Offensive Rebounds per 30 Minutes of PT:
Udoka = 3.1
Silvio = 7.2

I know Dok is superior overall to our other big men at this point, but I think Silvio may be a big piece of the puzzle going forward this year, and I hope Self uses him fairly regularly to sub in for Dok when he's getting winded or the offense has lost its rhythm.

Kent Richardson 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Silvio is very smooth on his moves around the basket and when he gets over the tentative hump look out. He is also smooth at the line. He has to have a mid range game lurking in there somewhere.

Harlan Hobbs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Good insight, Alan. While I generally think KU is better with Udoka inside, they don't lose that much when they go with Mitch and Silvio.

Mitch gives them so much energy and a lot of things that don't show up in the box score. Like you say, the ball doesn't stick with him, and he is a better defender than Udoka. He gets a lot of blocks, and he doesn't mind taking a charge, like he did twice yesterday against OSU.

A big side benefit of these minutes for Mitch and Silvio is that, depending upon the opponent, KU can play two bigs at the same time if they need to against an especially tall team. However, KU's best 5 in most situations is still the 4 guards and one big.

This team is becoming more versatile at the right time. They just need to focus on having their effort show up in each and every game from now on. The margin for error is still slim.

Chris Kovac 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I noticed that Sam seems pretty disconnected on the sideline. I'm sure it's been a tough year for him. During the quarterfinal game he looked pretty unhappy and was barely clapping while the rest of the bench was going nuts. Is Sam gone after this season? Even is he stays, would he get any PT next year? We're obviously going to be loaded.

Kinda off topic, but I figured he'd play a slightly bigger role vs. being the 8th or 9th guy.

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