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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Mr. Opportunity: K.J. Lawson scores 15 points to help No. 14 Kansas trounce West Virginia

Kansas guard K.J. Lawson (13) hangs for a shot against West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) and West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard K.J. Lawson (13) hangs for a shot against West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) and West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Kansas sophomore K.J. Lawson entered Saturday’s 78-53 victory by No. 14 Kansas over last-place West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse averaging just 9 minutes per game and fighting to find opportunities to show what he could do.

The Memphis transfer and older brother of KU’s leading scorer, Dedric Lawson, got 24 of them during Saturday’s victory and finished in a tie for the team lead with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in a game where every Jayhawk who played contributed something positive to the cause.

Asked after the victory if what Kansas fans have seen from him in the past two outings — he chipped in 10 points and 2 huge shots during Monday’s road win at TCU — was the “real K.J. Lawson,” the reserve guard shrugged and said, “Of course.”

“I mean, how can you judge someone off of 4 minutes a game or 7 minutes a game?” Lawson added. “I mean, you have to judge them off the measurement you’re judging other players.”

Don’t confuse K.J. Lawson’s statement of fact for comments from a disgruntled player. K.J., like the rest of his Kansas teammates, is having an absolute blast right now and the joy is being reflected in the results.

Kansas (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) has now won three games in a row and, because of K-State’s home loss to Iowa State on Saturday, sits in a second-place tie with Texas Tech in the league race, just a half game behind the Wildcats.

So, yeah, to say things are fun right now would be putting it mildly. And the fact that K.J. is actually contributing to the product on the floor and playing meaningful minutes like he did back at Memphis is merely adding to everyone’s enjoyment of what he’s been able to do.

“TCU was a very special moment,” Dedric said of his brother’s heroics against the Horned Frogs. “He came up big for us, and for it to carry over today was also big. I know the things he’s capable of and the way he plays and the hard work he puts in his game. It’s just having the opportunity. We go down a man and somebody’s got to step up. The season must go on. I’m just proud of him for being ready and seizing the moment.”

Added Self: “I haven’t given K.J. many opportunities, and he’s made the most of them the last two games, obviously. So that’s a big bonus. … I’m real happy for him. It’s nice to see guys hang in there and, when their number’s called, they’re ready. And he’s been ready.”

It did not take Lawson long to prove that in this one. After subbing in for Ochai Agbaji at the 12:21 mark of the first half, K.J. got to the free-throw line for 2 quick points, turned aggressive drives to the rim into 2 more tough points and later swished a 3-pointer from the corner on a pass from point guard Devon Dotson, who bellowed, “Get you one,” to his teammate as he floated the pass over the defender softly into K.J.’s hands.

All of that came while his teammates were playing equally good basketball around him.

Although not all of it was always good, the Jayhawks played with an undeniable amount of energy during the first 8 minutes of the game to build a 15-7 lead after a slow start.

No sequence demonstrated that better than a 4-point stretch where Mitch Lightfoot (5 points, 7 rebounds in 23 minutes), unafraid as always, blocked a point-blank layup attempt by West Virginia monster Derek Culver on one end and caught a slick slip pass from Quentin Grimes on the ensuing possession and deposited it via the 2-handed dunk. On the very next possession, which followed a KU steal, Agbaji’s lightning-fast transition layup put Kansas up 15-7 and brought the Fieldhouse fans to their feet.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins quickly called timeout to calm the waters, but KU’s defense stayed tough, the offense kept attacking and the Jayhawks followed up that burst with another micro-explosion that ultimately turned a 7-6 WVU lead early into a 27-9 KU lead at the 6:11 mark of the first half.

“That was big,” said Dotson, who finished with 15 points, 8 assists and just 2 turnovers. “We kind of put them away early.”

Things only got worse for the Mountaineers from there.

With Huggins screaming, staring and spitting fire — at both the officials and his own players — the Kansas run ballooned to 21-2 before West Virginia got on the board again.

And by halftime, Kansas led 43-16, finishing the final 15 minutes of the half on a 37-9 run.

K.J. Lawson had only done half of his damage by that point, and the other half came during a second half that saw him hit 3 of 4 from the floor and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line in 14 minutes.

“I could say it carried over (from the TCU game),” he said after the victory. “But I’m a confident guy. Once I get confidence, I play much better. I’ve been frustrated many times, but I’m just sticking with it and trying to do the best I can. Only the strong survive.”

That last statement might someday be used to describe this year’s Kansas team as a whole.

Down in the Big 12 standings with the season nearing its end and playing without starters Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett for long stretches of time, the Jayhawks have just kept fighting.

Attitude and effort continue to be the big reasons these guys talk about when discussing their midseason reversal of fortunes, and Self summed it up best on Saturday with a comment that twice included a three-letter word that seems to have made all the difference.

“I’m actually enjoying being around them and coaching them more because there seems to be more positive energy, which is fun,” Self said after Saturday’s game. “I mean, this is starting to get to be fun. That doesn’t guarantee success, but, certainly, it gives you a better chance to have it.”

Comments

Bryce Landon 1 month ago

It was definitely a satisfying win. Nice to kick their asses after we squandered the game in Morgantown. It would have been even better if Thuggy Bear had gotten himself tossed from the game like he did last year.

And those 70s uniforms that KU wore today looked pretty sharp and awesome. I have just one question, though: Why aren't these alternates available for fans to buy instead of the BHM crap from last week?

Barry Weiss 1 month ago

K-state has two games this week, unfortunately both are low tier...WV and Ok State. So they will probably win. Obviously we need to win at Lubbutticks this Saturday and then stomp K-State on Big Monday.

Dane Pratt 1 month ago

It would be nice if he lifted the suspensions and his roster was at full strength. Plus, Wade might not be playing tomorrow.

Steve Zimmerman 1 month ago

KJ should start. Period. We look sharper with him on the court. Not because of his athleticism, but he has easy way making buckets. He has tremendous experience and bball IQ. His shot selections are all on-target.

Joe Ross 1 month ago

I'm finally letting KJ out of the doghouse. For now. But I'm not gonna praise his basketball IQ. Two games of improved performance is a start, but it doesn't erase the stupid fouls, being out of position on defense or getting blown by, crazy shot selection, poor shooting, etc., etc., from earlier in the season.

I'm hoping the recent performance signifies a change. KJs point about being judged on low minutes per game is belied by the fact that his low minutes came for a reason (see above). But at this point in the season I'll be satisfied to say the optics of his play look good the last couple of games, and I hope it continues.

Let's just not declare him the next Michael Jordan just yet. (Or even the next Dedric Lawson at his position.)

Brian Wilson 1 month ago

It's about time you let him out Joe, he should have never been there anyway. Sometimes it takes game time to develop and others it just takes time and practice. K.J. already contributed in Memphis and had already earned starting near the same level with KU. McCormack needed some practice time and development before games. Mac still needs to add strength but In 3 or 4 more games, Mac will have his legs and watch out and it's only up from here. Errors aside, extrapolate statistics you can see KJ and Mac should start even over Garrett and "Q" and it's been that way for a some time. IMO, Garrett and Grimes need to be benched. Although athleticism and potential are higher they have just not met expectations this year and in their case they need more time to develop.

Joe Ross 1 month ago

You're just about the only one in the Universe who would hail KJ and deride Garrett in the same breath.

I stand by my comment.

Steve Zimmerman 1 month ago

A significant progress it is, Joe. Never was intended to declare KJ the next Air Majesty, LOL... Garrett will never be benched - he's too good defensively, the best in our team, who can shuts down the best shooter - besides, he has been contributing to scoring, not 3-pt, but he's quite effective on the floor. Grimes, on the other hand... He's got more TOs than any other stats, overall. At this point, there's no time to develop him in the next games, coach has to decide to just pull him out. It's sad, but it's reality.

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