San Antonio — You probably remember the foul that knocked Devonte’ Graham out of the 2016 Elite Eight game between Kansas and Villanova.
It’s likely no one agonized over the play more, though, than Graham himself.
“You kind of feel like you let the team down,” Graham said. “For a couple weeks after that, that’s all you can think about.”
The fact of the matter is, the fifth foul might have been the fifth most controversial.
There’s long been a belief among some KU fans that Graham fouled out of that game without committing a single foul. Don’t believe me?
“To be honest I don’t remember all five of ‘em,” Graham said. “Probably about three of them could’ve been questionable.”
Well, now you can decide for yourself.
Foul No. 1
Why it was a foul: Graham was hounding Phil Booth all the way up the court and put his hands on him a couple times. When Graham finally swiped at the ball around Booth's back, he had to know he was putting himself in jeopardy of a call being made. It’s also possible he nicked Booth’s arm, and referees can have a stricter whistle in the early moments of a game to set some kind of a tone.
Why it wasn’t a foul: Because the play he got called for didn’t look anything like a foul. Graham knocked the ball away cleanly. At the top of the screen, Wayne Selden put both hands on his head in frustration. It's also worth noting the referee who called the foul didn't have a clean look at the play at all.
Foul No. 2
Why it was a foul: This one is a little tough, since there isn’t a great angle, but you could argue Graham went through the left arm of Ryan Arcidiacono to get the ball. He might have also caught a little bit of his body, although it looks like Arcidiacono is actually the one holding off Graham.
Why it wasn’t a foul: There’s very little contact and it’s basically a loose ball at that point. Graham, again, reacts instantly to the call, and Frank Mason also throws his arms in frustration the second the call is made. Plus, the referee might have had a little extra leeway with Graham knowing he already picked up his first on what was at best a 50-50 call.
Foul No. 3
Why it was a foul: Again, there’s nothing you can really see from this angle that would be helpful, but it’s possible Graham went through Jalen Brunson’s arm to knock the ball away. Slapping at a ball on a driving player is also dangerous for a player that already has two fouls. Graham put himself in a position where a call could easily be made.
Why it wasn’t a foul: From this angle, at least, the play looks pretty clean. Graham bats the ball off Brunson’s knee and it trickles to Jamari Traylor. Again, Mason reacts in frustration to the call, Graham’s third.
Foul No. 4
Why it was a foul: Well, first of all, the officials could have called a foul on Landen Lucas, although it looks like Jalen Brunson shoved off the KU big man to accentuate the contact. But with Graham, there’s a bit of contact on the rebound and Darryl Reynolds (45) instantly grabs at his arm as if to say he got hit there. Plus, Graham had his hands on Reynolds' body at the beginning of the rebound.
Why it wasn’t a foul: You’ve seen far worse go uncalled, especially going for a rebound. Plus, it’s rare to see a smaller guard — Graham was listed at 6-2, 175 pounds — get called for a foul on a rebound against a significantly bigger player (6-8, 225 pounds) unless there’s pretty obvious contact.
Foul No. 5
Why it was a foul: This is the famous — or infamous — fifth foul. And honestly, it’s probably a foul. Graham is going after the loose ball, which is his right, but he slides into Josh Hart and takes out his legs. Hart wasn’t moving other than to bend down and pick up the ball. There’s way too much contact for the whistle not to blow.
Why it wasn’t a foul: Referees typically grant leeway for players going after loose balls. Plus, late in games referees also tend to swallow their whistles — sometimes to the benefit of Kansas (a non-charge call against Iowa State comes to mind).
Graham probably shouldn’t have fouled out against Villanova, not that it matters now.
"It's over now," Graham agreed.
The most egregious call was probably the second foul, while the first and third may have simply come down to the situations Graham put himself in.
As for the fifth foul, since it’s the one everyone remembers the most, Saturday’s media sessions provided the chance for a pair of perspectives on the play.
First, then-freshman Mikal Bridges was the player who knocked the ball out of Graham’s hands to create the loose ball. He was actually credited with a steal in the box score — giving him five when it should have been four — and he still remembered the sequence quite well.
“Graham just split me and Arch,” Bridges recalled. And the ball was loose and I just dove on it. That’s what we do. I guess it rolled to Josh and Josh went to go pick it up and I guess Graham dove on it and got a foul.”
Graham’s thoughts were clear on the play, but a teammate chimed in and provided his own take, saying it’s “part of how we play.”
“I think with that play in particular, I mean that’s just him going hard for the ball. I don’t think anybody can get mad at him for doing that, showing some effort,” said Mitch Lightfoot, who wasn’t yet on KU at the time. “It’s the heat of the game, he dove for a ball, just kind of the call didn’t go his way. We wish it would’ve, but it didn’t. But he’s working his butt off so you can’t get upset with him.”
San Antonio — Just about anyone who has ever picked up a basketball imagines what it would be like to hit a game-winning shot or play on the biggest stage.
For KU basketball, those dreams have become a reality. The Jayhawks will take the floor at approximately 7:49 p.m. CT against Villanova with a spot in the championship game on the line.
“It beats the hell out of sitting in class,” joked sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
As the Jayhawks prepare for their semifinal showdown, several shared memories of their first Final Fours and other childhood memories.
Here are a few of the earliest basketball memories from various members of the program…
Lightfoot — Sophomore from Gilbert, Arizona
First Final Four you watched: “I’d probably say the ’08 team, for real, just the first thing that sticks out to me. How old was I in ’08? I’d be 10. … I remember, they made me go to bed at halftime. That’s what I always tell everyone whenever they ask me. My parents made me go to bed at halftime so I had to wake up in the morning to see (the shot).”
When you became a college basketball fan: “It’s kind of just always been in my blood. Growing up, I was honestly a KU fan, so it’s kind of been in my blood, just part of me, and (I'm) excited to be a part of it now. (To) help us go on this run and help keep it going is pretty special.”
First jersey you owned: “I don’t think I ever had a KU jersey. I think I had a Tony Gonzalez jersey, I know this is football, but I had a Tony Gonzalez Pro Bowl jersey from when he was still with the Chiefs. That was probably my favorite jersey of all time. I still got it. I wear it whenever Chiefs games (are on).”
Marcus Garrett — Freshman from Dallas, Texas
First Final Four you watched: “I forgot what year (2014), but it was where Shabazz (Napier) and (Ryan) Boatright were playing against Kentucky. UConn dominated the game, basically. I’d seen their guards just picking up the Harrison twins full court, and things like that.”
When you became a college basketball fan: “Probably when I was a sophomore. Yeah I’m a big football guy, though. I’m a big football fan. … When I was little, I was like a big fan: Vince Young at Texas, Reggie Bush at USC. I used to watch a lot of football growing up, being from Texas. That’s a football state.”
First jersey you owned: “Vince Young jersey. I used to wear No. 10 and play quarterback and everything.”
James Sosinski — Redshirt sophomore from Chandler, Arizona
First Final Four you watched: “I don’t know. I think it’s when Duke played Butler in the championship. That’s the first game I really remember. I can’t remember what year it was (2010), but I just remember Butler wasn’t that good of a seed (five-seed) and they were playing Duke and it was kind of cool to watch it.
On Gordon Hayward’s near-halfcourt shot at the end of the game: “I really thought they were going to make it and upset ‘em. But it was just crazy to watch like a powerhouse like Duke go against a team like that and how good of a game it was. It just shows that anything can happen in this game if you get down to it.”
Favorite player when you were little: “I’m from Arizona. I remember my favorite player going up was probably (James) Harden. When ASU got Harden, I liked going and watching him play. ... Steve Nash (was my first) jersey. I was a huge Suns fan. Huge Suns fan. I loved Nash. I went to a bunch of Suns games growing up.”
Jerrance Howard — KU assistant coach
First Final Four you watched: “First memory was, I hate to say it, but the Chris Webber timeout (1993). But as a kid, I got a great background of grade school coaches and high school coaches. So they always used to talk about the Final Four and what it means to (make) the Final Four. Being one game away, playing for coach Self at Illinois when we lost here to Arizona, that kind of always stuck to me. Like, ‘Man, you can never get that back.’ And then to lose two years in a row to get to this game, and to win it here, it’s a special, special weekend for us.”
First jersey you owned: “I was a big Illinois fan and a big Michigan fan. So I’ve always been a big college basketball fan. … My first jersey was Kendall Gill Fighting Illini orange jersey. And (then there) was a 3-on-3 tournament called Gus Macker. We were called the Fab Four. We could have three players and a sub. I had a Juwan Howard, No. 25 (jersey), because he was part of the Fab Five and his last name was Howard.
On Juwan Howard: He’s got two sons that played in Chicago, maybe five years ago when I was coaching at Illinois. Unbelievable guy. I always tell him I had his jersey first.”
Brian Hanni — Voice of the Jayhawks
First Final Four you watched: “The best story I could give you, the first Final Four I covered was 2003 in New Orleans. I had the pleasure of getting assigned a media seat next to ESPN’s Linda Cohn. Problem was, there was a torrential downpour that day, and getting over from the media hotel to the Superdome, and the media shuttle dropped us off on the opposite entrance from the media entrance.
"By the time I got in, I was soaked like a wet rag. Literally, you could wring the water off my suit. And I go scooting down the line, trying to get in to sit next to my famous ESPN celebrity seat-mate. And she looked up at me like, ‘What kind of rock did this kid crawl out from up from underneath?’ But once I toweled myself off and watched the game, she was a delight to sit next to. And to this day, I still think that Michael Lee shot is going in if Hakim Warrick hadn’t blocked it.”
First jersey you owned: It was a Jacque Vaughn Kansas jersey. He was my favorite guy growing up. It was a No. 11 Jacque Vaughn Kansas jersey. I got it autographed at the Forbes Field Airport in Topeka when they came back from one of their NCAA tournament runs. It was a hurried signature, it was just "JV11," but that meant the world to me.
Omaha, Neb. — Mitch Lightfoot didn't play a second in KU's 85-81 overtime win over Duke in the Elite Eight.
Still, it'd be hard to argue his handprints weren't all over that game, just in a different vessel.
Lightfoot, KU's first big off the bench for much of the season, knew his role might change when Silvio De Sousa joined the team at semester. He worked to get the freshman up to speed — earning the praise of coach Bill Self at times — even though he knew it might come at his own expense.
"Honestly, that's my entire goal here: KU gets better," Lightfoot said. "It might hurt my playing time, it might hurt my minutes, but it is what it is. KU is going to the Final Four."
Lightfoot, obviously, is not done playing a role for KU basketball.
While he only played two minutes in the second weekend of the tournament — Udoka Azubuike played 44 and De Sousa played 39 — the sophomore tabbed 41 minutes in the first two rounds and had several key performances to help the Jayhawks in Big 12 play.
KU’s roster in the 2017-18 regular season presented a unique opportunity to Lightfoot, allowing him to play more minutes than might have been the case on a team like, well, the one that will take the floor next season.
Should Azubuike return, Lightfoot could end up as the third, fourth or — by the end of the year — even fifth big on a talented KU roster. So far, though, he’s done nothing but keep his head up, both publicly and behind the scenes.
Lightfoot, a lifelong Jayhawk fan, tweeted “I love being a Jayhawk and that’s a fact” back in February. At the same time, he was doing his part to train his replacement — at least for a couple games.
“Just really proud of him,” Lightfoot said of De Sousa
Lightfoot, who has helped De Sousa acclimate to the team off the court, said he was happy to be a “mentor” or sorts for the freshman, teaching him “what it means to be a Jayhawk and how to be a student-athlete.”
The sophomore has also been vocal from the bench, chatting with his understudy during each stop in the action and trying to pass along valuable words of advice.
“It’s great. He’s done a great job of learning,“ Lightfoot said. “My hats off to him for how he’s been progressing. Think it’s only up from here, too."
For what it’s worth, the KU coaches have seen the same.
Earlier in the year, Self noted Lightfoot “wants to win more than he wants to play.” KU big men coach Norm Roberts, on the other hand, was quick to remark that things aren’t just moving in one direction when it comes to that camaraderie.
“There’s been times that Mitch has played really well for us and his biggest cheerleader is Silvio or Udoka," Roberts said. "And the same thing happens, like today, Udoka was the biggest cheerleader for Silvio. He was happy for Silvio and what was going on out there. That’s the way our team is.”
Lucky for the Jayhawks, they'll have all three — big men, cheerleaders, whatever — available as they head toward a showdown with Villanova.
Omaha, Neb. — Svi Mykahiliuk noticed a change when he got into the teeth of Big 12 play.
Perhaps the most dramatic example came in KU’s game against TCU. The Horned Frogs’ defense keyed in on Mykhailiuk, switching all along the perimeter and trying to avoid helping off him.
The result? Mykhailiuk, who is averaging 12.3 field goal attempts per game this season, shot only two times. He went 0 for 2 from the field and missed his only 3-point attempt.
“Late in the year, starting I think in the Big 12 conference games, some teams started just running me off the 3-point line,” Mykhailiuk recalled. “Then in the Big 12 tournament, everyone started doing that.”
Mykhailiuk has shot at least 10 times in all but four of KU’s games since that matchup, but there has been a change of the number of open 3-pointers he’s gotten, especially in the NCAA tournament.
Through three rounds of the NCAA tournament, Mykhailiuk has connected on only 5 3s; he met or surpassed that total in nine of KU’s games leading up to that matchup against TCU.
“I haven’t studied it, but how many 3s has he got off in the tournament so far?” asked KU coach Bill Self. “Maybe 15 or so, which is not a great number. I mean that should be a two-game total as opposed to a three-game total.”
Funny enough, Self actually slightly overshot it.
Mykhailiuk has only launched 12 3 point attempts in the tournament. That mark of four per game is down from his average of nearly seven in KU’s first 34 contests.
That puts each open 3-point opportunity at a premium, though Mykhailiuk insists it doesn’t add any pressure to his shots.
“I’m just trying to take open shots,” Mykhialiuk said. “If it’s open, it’s gotta go in. If it’s not, I’m just not going to take it.”
Duke’s defense will be different than the ones the Jayhawks have seen for most of the season. The Blue Devils have played mostly zone since the midway point in the year.
The zone, inspired by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, has mostly resembled a 2-3, though it has taken on other forms depending on the matchup.
In Duke’s Sweet 16 win over Syracuse, the zone resembled more of a 4-1 look at times, with the guards pressed high up on the wings. KU has seen other varieties of zones this year, playing against teams like Syracuse, Washington — who left the middle of the floor open and dared Lagerald Vick to beat them — Baylor and even Nebraska, who confounded the Jayhawks with a 1-3-1 look.
“Duke’s kind of different,” Mykhailiuk said. “Like Syracuse, they’re really long. They be playing zone every year so they know what they’re doing. I think Duke just started playing this year … but for them it’s working really good.”
While it remains to be seen what specific look — or looks — the Blue Devils will give the Jayhawks, Mykhailiuk noted the key to breaking them down may not solely come down to shooting.
Mykhailiuk knows KU will be at a size disadvantage, but the way he sees it, it could actually work in the Jayhawks' favor.
“I’ve just got to use my handles way more than I had to and just go to the line more,” Mykhailiuk said. “Find the open man, drive the ball more, drive the big guys because they play Bagley on the outside. He’s got to come up, so I think we’ve just got to drive more and find the open man.”
OMAHA, Neb. — However many KU fans filled CenturyLink Center on Friday, there was a palpable tension as Silvio De Sousa stepped to the line in a six-point game with less than 90 seconds left.
Likely the least nervous of the lot? The freshman himself.
“When you have confidence, you don’t have to feel pressure,” said De Sousa with a chuckle.
De Sousa’s stroke wasn’t quite as perfect as his confidence — he went 1 for 2 in that instance and finished 3 for 4 for the game — but his minutes for the Jayhawks weren’t far from it.
In KU’s 80-76 win over the Tigers, De Sousa scored nine points (3-for-4 shooting) and added six rebounds and a block. He committed one turnover in his 13 minutes and even came away with one of the most impressive highlights of the tournament, throwing down an alley-oop off a half-court pass from Devonte’ Graham.
Funny enough, though, it wasn’t the dunk that caught De Sousa’s eye after the game.
“I just love making free throws,” the freshman deadpanned.
His teammates are certainly aware.
When De Sousa stepped to the line for his late free throws, his teammates didn’t say anything to him about the shot.
“Nah,” De Sousa said. “'Cause they know I was going to make them.”
De Sousa said he shoots about 200 free throws per day, knocking them down at a clip between 75 and 80 percent. He said his motivation for doing so is because of how crucial they end up being in games — perhaps none bigger than when he stepped to the line with 90 seconds left.
“It’s probably one of the biggest situations he’s been in,” Newman said. “So for him to get up, to have poise and knock that down, I mean it just shows how much he loves free throws, as he say.”
Newman’s final words were said with a laugh, but several players affirmed that De Sousa’s commitment to free throws is no laughing matter.
Svi Mykhailiuk said De Sousa is one of several players who stick around to shoot free throws after practices while Graham noted De Sousa also puts in work before weights sessions and other team events.
De Sousa, Graham said, even takes extra free throws when Azubuike is working on his shots, something Graham considers to be part of building team chemistry.
But if the free throws are any indication of De Sousa’s confidence, there’s plenty for KU fans to be excited about. Newman credited the freshman with a crucial performance in the win, while De Sousa beamed with confidence after playing a career-high 13 NCAA tournament minutes.
“My teammates trust me even more. I’m just trying to help the team,” De Sousa said. “I knew my time was going to come, and I know it’s still coming.”
Omaha, Neb. — Bill Self has spoken about the NCAA Tournament differently than some of his peers. He often divides it into weekends, speaking as though it's three miniature tournaments rather than one big one.
The first weekend has the first two rounds. The next one has the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight. The elusive third weekend, at least for the last five tournaments, has the Final Four and National Championship games.
Since the Bucknell and Bradley upsets, though, one thing has remained a constant for Self. He doesn’t lose the first game of the mini two-game tournaments, almost completely without fail. As the higher seed, Self has only been defeated one time in the Round of 64, Sweet 16 or Final Four in a streak that dates all the way back to the 2007 tournament.
“Our preparation has always been detailed from strengths and weaknesses to player personnel,” said KU assistant Jerance Howard, who also played under Self while at Illinois. “For the guys, they have at least 24 hours to enjoy the win and rest, but for us we’re right back in the office, watching film and getting together a game plan — how we’re going to score, how we’re going to stop them.”
The preparation is evident. Self’s record as an equal or higher seed in Thursday and Friday NCAA Tournament games — since 2006 — is a whopping 20-1. He’s 12-0 in the first round, 6-1 in the Sweet 16 and 2-0 in the Final Four.
And Howard isn’t the only one on the staff to identify it.
Norm Roberts, a KU assistant in Self’s first season and again since 2012, is as well versed in Self’s path as any of his assistants.
“He’s experienced. He knows what it’s going to take to win,” said Roberts. “We’ve been at Oral Roberts, we’ve been at Tulsa when we were lower seeds. He tries to get our guys to understand that those are very, very good teams and they’re very, very excited about playing."
Self learned that the hard way early on.
In his second season at Kansas, Self’s No. 3 seed Jayhawks were bounced in the first round by Bucknell, 64-63. The next year, Self’s fourth-seeded squad lost to Bradley, 77-73.
Since then, Self’s teams — the non No. 1 seeds — have gone 4-0 in the opening game, winning by an average of nearly 14 points per contest. All four wins have been by double-digits, while his 1 seed teams have won by an average of 23 points.
Only once has a Self-led 1 seed won by fewer than 16 points in the first round of the tournament.
“I think he just makes sure his team is focused,” said Roberts. “Coming out of a league like the Big 12, you’re playing against the best teams in the country, different styles. So it really does prepare you for when you get to the NCAA tournament.
“There’s probably not things that we haven’t seen. Don’t mean that we can’t falter in going against them.”
Sure enough, the exception to Self’s opening-game dominance came in 2013. Taking on fourth-seeded Michigan, No. 1 seed KU led by 14 with 6-and-a-half minutes left and maintained a double-digit advantage with less than 2:30 to play.
KU was up 8 with 1:22 to play and then five with 20 seconds left. Trey Burke essentially willed the game into overtime, scoring eight points in the final 1:15, including two 3-pointers.
Again, that was the exception, not the rule.
Self had one other Thursday/Friday loss since the Bucknell and Bradley games, but he was the lower seed for that matchup. The No. 3 seed Jayhawks lost to No. 2 seed Michigan State in a season the Jayhawks had to replace all five starters.
That aspect may have had more to do with it than you might think.
Asked about the team’s focus level headed into a new weekend, Howard offered up an idea outside of the coaching staff.
“I think it starts with our older guys, with Devonte’ and Svi. They understand, they’ve been here, they’ve been in Elite Eight games, and they know how it works,” Howard said. “Everybody else falls in line. It’s just the way it is here. Our culture that we have set: Once we prepare, everybody needs to be locked in.”
Graham learned that lesson early. His instructors were past Bill Self favorites like Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis.
“Freshman year, definitely,” Graham said. “When you come in and it’s your first tournament and you just see how locked in the other guys and seniors are.”
As for the underclassmen on the team, it hasn’t taken long for them to get the message from the older players.
“We come out there and we prepare so well during the week,” said sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot. “We listen to the scouting report, we understand what (the coaches) want us to do, we understand the other team’s tendencies. I think we come out here and we play like we practice.”
WICHITA — Svi Mykhailiuk is lucky to be alive.
OK, so that might be a slight exaggeration. But if you were only basing it off the look on Bill Self’s face when Mykhailiuk let go of a pass that was at best risky and probably closer to the “terrible” grade Self later applied to it, then the words of the senior after the game made a little more sense.
“Oh, he would’ve killed me,” joked Mykhailiuk after KU’s 83-79 win. “It was a bad, bad play.”
Here’s how it all happened.
Khadeen Carrington hit a deep 3-pointer to cut KU’s lead over Seton Hall to four with 29.4 seconds remaining. Seton Hall took a timeout.
Mykhailiuk ran the baseline and inbounded the ball to Lagerald Vick. Vick tapped it back to Mykhailiuk, who, without even first landing on the ground, threw a pass all the way down the floor to a streaking Devonte’ Graham.
“I saw Devonte’ open so I threw it to him,” said Mykhailiuk. “I did not think (the defender) was going to come steal the ball. I was nervous when I passed that.”
Desi Rodriguez, who was keeping an eye on Lightfoot down the floor, broke away from his man. He had a chance to grab the ball as it bounced right by the half-court line.
The ball should have been picked off. Even the announcer calling the game thought so.
“Back to Mykhailiuk, who threw it away!” exclaimed Brad Nessler, who then saw the ball bounce under Rodriguez’s hands and end up in Graham’s mitts.
“Almost!” he corrected.
(Check out the aftermath of the pass in the photo below. Look at Graham's facial expression and the surprise that's on it after he ended up with the ball. And be sure to note the pain on Rodriguez's face in the background. There's little doubting that the Seton Hall senior, just a split second earlier, thought he had the steal.)
Back to the sequence, the nerves were free-flowing all around.
“Every ball has a chance to get picked off,” said Mitch Lightfoot, “but once the ball was a loose ball I was like, ‘Uh oh.’”
“We just got lucky on that one,” added Graham. “I had seen the defender like at the last second, so I just tried to hit the ball to myself. Thank God that it came, that it went through.”
Graham regained possession, took a pair of dribbles and shoveled the ball off to Lightfoot. The big man dunked it with two hands and let out a roar in the process.
The basket gave KU 77 points and put the Jayhawks up six. Carrington would hit another three, but there wasn’t enough time for the Pirates to keep trading baskets.
It would’ve been the game-winning score, in fact, if not for a meaningless — to some — 3-pointer with two seconds left to massage the final margin.
“You’ve got to make winning plays with the game on the line,” Graham said. “Coach stresses it a lot in practice and we just try to do it in the games.”
As for the other stress — that of Self’s potential reaction — Mykhailiuk’s teammates each laughed when told about Mykhailiuk’s comment.
At least one player, though, agreed with the Ukranian’s assertion.
“Not far from it,” Lightfoot joked. “Thank God it didn’t happen. Thank God we’re moving on.”
Kansas City, Mo. — Sitting at his locker in the bowels of Sprint Center after an 82-68 KU win, Mitch Lightfoot dropped his phone and watched as it tumbled to the floor.
A reporter reached out to pick it up, but Lightfoot shooed him away.
“It’s already cracked as it is,” Lightfoot said. “It doesn’t really matter.”
As it were, there probably couldn’t have been a more on-brand comment from the sophomore.
Lightfoot scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds on Thursday, but his two biggest plays didn’t involve the ball ever entering his possession. Twice in the second half he stood in to take a charge on the Cowboys. Twice the referee signaled for the offensive foul, leading to an energetic celebration for a player sprawled on his back.
“It’s kind of weird that I get excited for charges,” said Lightfoot. “Someone’s running you over and you get up with a smile on your face.”
Don’t underestimate the value of that smile, though.
As an individual basketball play, few plays are more powerful than a charge.
- The clock stops
- The defense doesn’t allow a score
- An offensive player gets a foul
- Possession changes
“If you block it they can get it back,” Lightfoot said. “If you get a charge, it’s automatically our ball and a huge momentum shift.”
“Mitch is a good shot-blocker, but I think taking the charge and getting there is more of a momentum play,” added walk-on Clay Young. “I love charges, personally. I think they’re huge in-game.”
And there’s an art to taking them.
Lightfoot has drawn multiple charges in several games this year, including a December game against Syracuse in Miami and the game on Thursday.
“I certainly look for the opportunity. I try to — not find certain guys — but understand certain people’s games,” LIghtfoot said. “That helps a lot in scout. If he’s going to drive to the hoop and he’s going to play with that reckless abandon, you know you can step in, might get a charge on him”
There’s more to it than that, though.
“I had several fouls (against OSU) so there were certain opportunities where I couldn’t step in for a charge because it’s kind of a 50-50 call,” Lightfoot said. “The ones I stepped in on were kind of like 80-20 where I’m probably going to get that.”
And perhaps what makes Lightfoot most effective is that opponents don’t always see it coming.
Quizzed about Lightfoot’s prowess for drawing charges, Malik Newman offered up one suggestion. He said part of it is Lightfoot avoiding “doing anything dumb,” but the other half is what the opponent might be expecting.
“I think as a guard going to basket, a big man would never try to take a charge on me,” Newman said. “I think that’s the same thing that those guys think with him.”
With Lightfoot, that makes some sense. Listed at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, Lightfoot is far from the most imposing center in the conference. He’s far from that on his own team.
Silvio De Sousa, who backed up Lightfoot on Thursday, is listed at 6-9, 245. James Sosinski, a mid-season addition from the KU football team, stands at 6-7 but weighs 250 pounds.
“This will sound really weird, but I didn’t really take them,” Lightfoot said. “I took them every once in a while in high school. I got to the All-American camps and stuff and I realized that you might not block everyone’s shot because certain people are more athletic than you. You just gotta step in and take a charge.”
The same might apply to just about every player on the team — with one exception.
Azubuike, who coach Bill Self said will miss the Big 12 tournament with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, stands at a hefty 7-foot, 280 pounds. For that, at least one teammate couldn’t help but crack a big smile when trying to imagine him sliding over to beat an offensive player to a spot.
“No way. No way. Dok take a charge something wrong,” Newman joked. “Dok take a charge we gotta get him out. There’s something wrong with him mentally.”
Since coming to the Big 12, Shaka Smart has yet to earn a win against Bill Self — like he did as the coach of VCU. Today's 1-3-1 blog explores the coaching matchup between the two, plus a play by Malik Newman that brought back memories of another five years ago. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.
Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.
Play of the game: Hit the deck! —
The Jayhawks were never really in danger of dropping Monday's game against Texas, yet they weren't able to put it entirely out of reach until late.
For that, every time Texas crawled to within six or eight — or some similar score — the Jayhawks had an answer. Some of them were louder than others.
In a game where coach Bill Self praised the energy of Udoka Azubuike, it was exactly that on display to start the sequence. With the Jayhawks unable to secure the rebound initally, the 7-foot, 280-pound Delta, Nigeria native dove on the floor to grab a loose ball.
Azubuike kept his composure and flipped the ball to Newman, who brought it up the court to begin the weave. Azubuike, who was late down the court, eventually caught the ball at the top of the key, becoming part of the weave as he took a dribble to his right.
Azubuike handed the ball off to Newman, who was initially guarded by Kerwin Roach. Roach was screened by Azubuike and wasn't able to fight through it.
Perhaps he was expecting to switch since Texas defended the initial action between the guards by switching, but he almost certainly wouldn't have been supposed to switch onto Azubuike. Teams will often defend the weave by switching either 1-through-3 or 1-through-4, meaning they'll switch at every position except with the big men on the floor.
Newman pulled up from 3 and knocked down the shot. KU, which had seen its lead cut to six less than 90 seconds earlier, went back up by 11.
It was that kind of game.
A trend: Creating a mismatch —
Shaka Smart does something that absolutely baffles me.
When the other team has the ball out of bounds on the baseline, he sticks the tallest player on the inbounder, creating a mismatch from the jump.
- The first time Texas tried it, KU got a layup.
- The second time. Graham isolated big man Mo Bamba and KU missed a shot, but Texas wasn’t able to initially secure a rebound.
- The third time, Graham pulled Bamba away from the hoop, drove by him and drew a foul.
Point being, KU took advantage — over and over and over.
The rematch was no different.
On the first instance, Graham was guarded by 6-9, 240-pound Texas big man Jericho Sims. Graham passed the ball to the corner and Sims doubled, which forced Texas’ other big in the game to rotate onto Graham.
The action left the two Texas big men — and one guard — guarding KU’s two smallest players. It looked as though Matt Coleman, the guard, should've stayed on Newman with the two bigs dropping back down into the paint, but that would've left Sims on Graham, which would have been a total mismatch.
Regardless, the end result was a wide-open Azubuike under the hoop. Clay Young found him with a perfect chest pass and the rest was easy.
Things went a little differently the second time, but the result was the same.
Graham inbounded the ball and pulled 6-10, 240-pound James Banks away from the basket. He isolated him on the right wing and settled for a long jumper.
Objectively, you’d have to say Texas won the exchange. But it wasn't over.
Because Banks had to turn and chase the rebound from the perimeter, he wasn’t able to box anyone out or get into position to haul in the board. In the meantime, Lagerald Vick was matched up with a smaller Jacob Young.
Vick sidestepped Young and grabbed the board. He kicked the ball out to the perimeter to Graham, who swung it to Mykhailiuk. The Texas defense was already scrambling at that point, and it was nothing but target practice for a wide-open Mykhailiuk.
The crazy thing is, it wasn’t even the last time KU scored off the Smart-inbound-defending strategy…
… in the first 10 minutes of the game.
On the third instance, Graham pulled 6-9, 245-pound Dylan Osetkowski away from the hoop by simply running to the 3-point line. Osetkowski initially pointed for someone else to take Graham, but with no one in position to do so, he had to guard the KU senior.
Graham noticed the mismatch and called for an isolation.
Note how he waves away the potential Azubuike screen.
He blew by Osetkowski off the bounce, which forced Sims to help. Graham dropped the ball off to Azubuike, who collected it and threw down a dunk.
You'd think at some point the Longhorns might try something a little different. Maybe in the Big 12 tournament.
One that stood out: Ring a bell? —
It’d be difficult to imagine a more salivating opportunity for a guard.
Malik Newman caught the ball in the right corner with a Texas big closing out on him. Newman had to know that there was no chance of the defender staying with him if he put the ball on the floor, meaning he was essentially a dribble away from getting to throw down an emphatic slam.
If you’re like me, the dunk made you think of one from about five years ago.
Late in the first half of a 2013 revenge game against TCU, Ben McLemore caught the ball on the wing. There was a TCU player closing out to him, but he had no chance to actually get a stop.
McLemore took two dribbles and exploded to the rim for a dunk. The basket gave him 11 points on the game. At that point, TCU had only nine, but I digress.
I didn’t just bring up that play to talk about the history. Rather, it felt worth noting how KU was able to get such an easy opportunity in the first place.
Off the Texas miss, Mitch Lightfoot executed on a boxout and Graham rebounded the ball. The sequence was similar to a strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the big men would leave rebounds for Russell Westbrook, so he could start the break the other way upon catching the ball.
That wasn’t always the case for KU this year.
After the Iowa State game in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, I wrote about a sequence in which Newman actually boxed out an opposing big man so Azubuike could get an easy rebound. That didn't allow KU to break, since there were three KU players standing 90 feet from the hoop by the time Azubuike passed the ball ahead.
But this time, with Lightfoot doing the hard work, Graham was able to get the board and start the break immediately. That left the defense scrambling and set Newman up with the easiest two points of his career.
Perhaps the flashiest, too.
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 74, Tech 72
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 104, OU 74
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 77, WVU 69
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 83, ISU 77
1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68
1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67
Devonte' Graham absolutely took over down in Lubbock. Today's 1-3-1 blog shows just how the senior did it — on both ends — as the Jayhawks clinched a record-setting 14th straight Big 12 title. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.
Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.
Play of the game: Break the tie —
Devonte’ Graham hit dagger after dagger in his quest to help the Jayhawks defeat Texas Tech.
With about eight minutes left, Graham hit some kind of a Marcus-Denmon-in-Allen-Fieldhouse-only-it-went-in 3-pointer. With less than 40 seconds left, he pulled off an improbable finish at the rim to put KU up two scores.
(Keep reading, because you’re going to see both of those plays.)
But it was another shot, a simple isolation pull-up jumper that KU needed — NEEDED — more than any other.
KU led by eight with four-and-a-half minutes left. The Red Raiders then went on a 7-0 run in less than 90 seconds to cut the deficit to one. Thirty seconds after that, the game was tied. KU called timeout.
Out of the huddle, the ball went into the hands of Svi Mykhailiuk. He fired off a 3-pointer from the left wing late in the shot clock, and it missed. Mykhailiuk got his own miss — a worthy candidate for play of the game, too — and reset the offense.
KU’s next shot went to Graham. The senior cut to the hoop and went up for a two-handed layup. The shot was erased by Tech’s Zhaire Smith. Just 18 seconds on the shot clock remained.
Graham went and got the ball and then he dribbled — and dribbled and dribbled and dribbled some more.
Finally, with the clock down to seven seconds, he made his move. He crossed over at the top of the key and shook off Zach Smith. He pulled up for two and knocked down the shot that broke the tie.
You can’t win the game if you don’t take the lead.
A trend: #BIDG? —
I’ll admit, when the hashtag #BIDG appeared in my mentions I rolled my eyes. Some things — like the anthem that belonged to 2017 national player of the year Frank Mason — should probably stay with the player they were intended for.
But for at least the second half of Saturday’s game, Devonte’ Graham was Frank Mason. He put KU on his back — on both ends — and would not let his team lose.
Let’s go to the film.
This play was almost identical to the first part of one made by Mason last year — save for a broken chair or two.
Against K-State in his senior season, Mason made a save while diving out of bounds. He crashed into press row but was able to fling the ball in bounds and eventually come up with a steal on a play that KU coach Bill Self later described as season-defining.
The Graham version didn’t have the steal at the end, but it had just about everything else.
Niem Stevenson passed the ball to Norense Odiase, who had his back to the basket. Graham rotated from the weak side to help in the post. He knocked the ball away and then chased after it, lunging toward the sideline and flinging it back over his head as his momentum carried him out of bounds.
Zach Smith picked off the heave, but he was pressured instantly by Marcus Garrett. Smith tried to drop it off to Keenan Evans but Svi Mykhailiuk read the play and got into the passing lanes before sprinting down the court to draw a foul.
If that sequence didn’t make you think of a Mason-sparked run, though, it was hard to think of anything else on a play Graham made late in the contest — even if it involved a bit of luck.
With the Jayhawks up two and less than a minute to play, a bucket wouldn’t quite seal the game, but it would start to make 14 straight feel a whole lot closer.
Graham dribbled at the top of the key to take valuable seconds off the clock for the Red Raiders. He crossed over on Jarrett Culver and began his drive to the rim with about seven on the shot clock once again.
As he drove, Graham carried the ball like a running back. He had the ball knocked down from his hands but he quickly regained control and launched up a prayer of a shot from his hip.
“That layup he made late was probably better lucky than good,” Self said.
For what it’s worth, Graham, a mere 44.2 percent finisher at the rim this season, agreed.
“The layup, it was a crazy wild layup,” Graham said. “That was definitely luck to go in.”
His next play? Not so much.
Immediately following the Graham layup, the Jayhawks sprinted back down the floor on defense. They set up in a 2-3 zone and needed a stop to seal the win.
Evans dribbled the ball up the court and then passed it off to Culver. As he did so, Graham fought through a screen and helped swarm the Texas Tech guard, poking the ball away to create a chance at a turnover.
Culver, a freshman, stayed on his feet while trying to pick up the ball. Graham, a senior, dove onto the court and knocked it away to Lagerald Vick.
It was a final reminder of Mason, who made plays on the defensive end over and over at game point throughout his KU career. Most notably, the former Jayhawk came up with a clutch steal in the World University Games championship round against Germany and did so again in the triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma, poking the ball away from Buddy Hield while guarding the inbounds pass.
One that stood out: A role reversal —
Take a deep breath, KU fans.
I’m about to compare a shot by Graham to one of a Missouri player — a player who might have been the biggest reason for KU’s final loss to the Tigers.
There’s good news, though. The Missouri player missed the shot I’m talking about and it was in a game that KU won in Lawrence, not the one in Columbia.
Marcus Denmon could have buried the Jayhawks on Missouri’s way out of the Big 12. Up by three with less than 35 seconds left in Allen Fieldhouse, the guard dribbled against Travis Releford and launched a high-arching 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.
Denmon’s shot hit both sides of the rim and just narrowly missed. Thomas Robinson hauled in the board. The rest was history.
When Graham pulled up for a 3-pointer with eight-and-a-half minutes left, that was exactly the shot on my mind.
Only Graham made his.
With the shot clock winding down and Vick aimlessly dribbling on the perimeter, Graham backed up to half court to receive the ball. Vick’s pass was deflected, giving Graham all of four seconds and 40 feet to the basket to traverse to make a play.
He didn’t disappoint.
Graham took one dribble with his left hand and pulled up while fading to his right. The shot swished through the net. And Graham was just getting started.
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 104, OU 74
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 77, WVU 69
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 83, ISU 77
1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68
1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67