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.
The 1-3-1 breakdown from KU’s 79-68 win over Texas A&M features a Bill Self-style player making a Bill Self-style play, an analysis of one slumping player and a highlight from one of KU’s most consistent guards. 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: He does what he does —
While the Jayhawks played most of Saturday's game comfortably in front of the Aggies, it wasn’t until a play with about 2-and-a-half minutes left that the game felt truly over.
With 2:45 to play and the Jayhawks up 11, Svi Mykhailiuk pulled up for 3 but missed. Udoka Azubuike tapped the rebound away to Marcus Garrett, who reset the possession with a pass out to the top of the key.
KU coach Bill Self has praised Garrett for his ability to steal extra possessions, a trait that was on display on this play. However, one thing aiding Garrett in crashing the glass was something that has actually hurt the KU offense when he’s been in games this year.
Despite hitting a 3-point shot earlier in the game, Garrett was practically unguarded as he ran from corner to corner. The Aggies had two big men in the game, but 6-10 forward Robert Williams opted to stay in the paint instead of following Garrett to the perimeter, leaving the KU freshman with a free run to the hoop on the offensive glass.
If Williams had kept sight of Garrett, he might have been able to seal him off and haul in the rebound when Azubuike poked the ball away. Williams might have even been able to discourage Garrett from going for the rebound in the first place.
Instead, Garrett ran to the rim, hauled in the board and, rather than going right back up, passed the ball out to Malik Newman. Newman scored to put KU up 13, effectively ending the game in a sequence that certainly factored into Self’s comments after the game.
"Thought he was, other than Svi, the best player in the game," Self said of Garrett, who also finished with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting. "I thought he played great. Best game he's had in a long time."
A trend: Disappearing act —
Few would’ve predicted the recent slump of Lagerald Vick after non-conference play. Vick, who opened his season with a 23-point outburst against Tennessee State, crossed the 20-point threshold five times in non-conference play — and once more in the Big 12 opener — showing impressive growth after a season in which he did so only once.
However, since the Big 12 opener against Texas, Vick has been in a massive slide. Self has had conversations telling his wing he needs to do more, something that hasn’t yet materialized in games.
Vick, averaging 7.0 points over his last eight games after averaging more than 17 over his first 13, received a pass from Devonte’ Graham around the free throw line.
Like the game against Washington, when Vick was left open over and over by design of the Huskies' zone, he had plenty of room to operate and put up a floater.
No Aggies contested the shot, yet at the last minute, Vick attempted to thread a pass to Silvio De Sousa, who was completely caught off guard by the move.
Watching from the sideline, Self barked over at the junior.
“Hey Lagerald,” he said, “Shoot it.”
The next possession, that's exactly what Vick did.
This time, Vick received a bounce pass from Mykhailiuk and turned and shot right away.
That aggressiveness was more of what Self wanted to see, but Vick actually had Newman wide open on the right wing. And if he had held the ball just a second more, Graham was sprinting to the right corner, meaning one of either Newman or Graham could’ve gotten off a wide-open 3-pointer.
Still, the one thing Vick did well on the play was that he didn’t hesitate. Self was unhappy that Vick didn’t drive later in the game when he had mismatches against the Aggies' bigs, but there may have been even bigger problems at work.
When Newman was slumping earlier in the season, Self spoke on several occasions about how he was overthinking things on the offensive end, sometimes leading to hesitancy and other times poor decision-making.
It’s tough to watch the following play and see anything other than a player going through something similar.
With the Aggies not matching up in transition, Newman was able to float a pass to Vick on the wing. Savion Flagg attempted to intercept the ball but missed, leaving Vick wide open for a 3-pointer.
Rather than taking an escape dribble — one dribble to his right to fully clear the defender — and pulling up, Vick used the first bounce as if it were a hesitation dribble, allowing the defense to react and rotate as he took one more step forward.
(Note how Jay Jay Chandler — No. 0 — rotated onto Azubuike, allowing Aggies forward Tyler Davis to rotate out to Vick.)
The swingman ultimately made his own shot more difficult, having to settle for a contested jumper over the long arms of the 6-10 Davis.
KU actually got the rebound on the air ball and scored later on the possession, but that wasn't the point. Instead, Vick was caught in between taking a 3-pointer and driving the rim, almost as if he were thinking about what the right play to make would be vs. simply making the right one.
Vick finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 31 minutes.
"I thought he was better," Self said, "but I don't think he put his handprint on the game."
One that stood out: Just like a quarterback —
It’s a pretty simple principle of basketball: If one player is doubled, somebody is open.
It may not be the best option — such as a poor shooter in an uncomfortable area — but sometimes it's exactly the opposite, a nightmare for the defense.
After gaining control of the ball in the backcourt, Graham dribbled to the top of the arc, where he was almost instantly doubled.
Immediately Vick flashed open, but the 7-foot Azubuike running by Graham actually blocked his sight from that option.
Just like a good quarterback, Graham stayed calm under pressure and went through his progressions. On the replay you can almost see his eyes bounce from Vick to Azubuike out to Mykhailiuk at the 3-point line.
Graham pump faked to Vick to force the defense to commit. He then floated the ball out to Mykhailiuk, who took care of the rest.
“Obviously it wasn't really good in the first half," said Aggies coach Billy Kennedy of the team's 3-point defense. "It just seemed like every bounce, every play, they made it. That's the mark of a really good team."
1-3-1 breakdown: Oklahoma 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67
KU’s biggest issue with Stanford wasn’t going to be "the" matchup so much as it was "a" matchup.
Most KU fans were at least familiar with big man Reid Travis before Thursday’s game, a 75-54 KU win. It wasn’t long ago — just over a calendar year, in fact — the big man posted a career-best 29 points for the Cardinal in a 15-point KU win in Allen Fieldhouse.
It wasn’t just that he scored 29 points, it was how he scored those 29.
“We didn’t do anything with him,” said KU coach Bill Self immediately following the 2016 matchup. “That was a total beat-down by him on our big guys.
"Whenever one guy can set the all-time record for most free throws ever shot against Kansas and the most free throws ever made against Kansas, in the history of the school, home or away, (it) means that we probably didn’t guard. He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys."
Reid tallied 22 free throw attempts in the loss, knocking down 19.
Those numbers were in Self’s mind following the Jayhawks’ last game before the Stanford matchup this season, as both Self and senior Svi Mykhailiuk referenced them following a blowout win over Omaha.
That set the stage for Thursday. This time, things were different.
Rather than defend Travis straight-up and risk foul trouble to Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, Self attacked the big man with smaller players.
Svi Mykhailiuk drew the matchup first, defending Travis from the start of the game on.
The senior guard — listed at 6-foot-8 on the roster, though he gave a smaller number when asked about it at KU media day — was giving up some size in the matchup, with Travis outweighing him by about 40 pounds. However, Mykhailiuk more than held his own.
On the first defensive possession, Mykhailiuk denied the ball all the way out to the perimeter. He boxed out on the eventual shot attempt and KU came up with the ball.
The next possession, Mykhailiuk worked back in transition and was forced to help on a different man. After a missed Stanford layup and offensive rebound, though, the offense reset.
Mykhailiuk, who was still out of position, was late recovering to an open Travis at the 3-point line. Travis, who had made three 3-pointers in his last two games, missed what was a fairly open shot. It was arguably his best look of the half.
The only other candidate came when he had a big on him.
After a variety of action at the top of the key, Lightfoot found himself guarding Travis.
Lightfoot, KU’s most aggressive defender at the rim — arguably to a fault — had the same problem the KU bigs had last year.
Travis barely even up-faked, but Lightfoot left his feet and had to contort his body to avoid a foul. With Lightfoot out of the picture, Travis laid the ball up and in.
Travis scored six points in the first half. All six came with Lightfoot guarding him.
All-in-all, the Jayhawks primarily used multiple smaller defenders to guard the Stanford big man, which changed the way he was able to play.
The smaller KU guards were able to slide and stay in front of Travis, like a few minutes into the game, when Mykhailiuk — not known for his lateral quickness — slid into the lane and kept Travis from getting to the rim on a drive.
On another possession, Sam Cunliffe kept his footing and forced a travel. When tasked with boxing out the big on the ensuing possession, Cunliffe used his vertical leap to tip the ball away.
Other defenders had their moments too.
Just about everyone got their shot guarding the big man in the first half. With KU switching out on the perimeter, even Malik Newman ended up briefly guarding Travis.
At a significant size disadvantage, Newman fronted Travis in the post and relied on Azubuike to help had a pass come over the top.
Azubuike’s man eventually floated out behind the arc and was able to get a 3-point look, but the shot missed. KU survived the mismatch.
Late in the first half, with Newman again switched onto Travis, the big man was able to post up and the pass came in over the top.
With the KU coaches barking “help him” from the sidelines, Marcus Garrett got the message and slid into position, leaping up and knocking the ball away.
The KU guards also did their part in keeping Stanford from getting the angles to work the ball into the post, which Devonte’ Graham said after the game was a key emphasis.
And when Travis did catch the ball with a smaller defender on him, KU trapped almost immediately.
It was all part of the first-half effort that saw KU take control of the game and never look back.
The biggest problem for the Jayhawks in guarding Travis last time around was fairly simple. KU couldn’t keep him off his spot and lacked the ability to recover and wall up in the post.
After that game, Self gave Azubuike a pass, since he was just a freshman, but said he expected more from then-sophomore Carlton Bragg, redshirt-junior Dwight Coleby and redshirt-senior Landen Lucas.
That was clearly a bigger emphasis this time around, even when the ball was outside the perimeter.
Early on, most of Travis’ touches were on the outside. He caught passes at the top of the key and swung the ball to get Stanford into its offense.
Mykhailiuk, in turn, somewhat overplayed when Travis was one pass away from the action. With just over two minutes gone and Stanford with the ball on the perimeter, Mykhailiuk turned and faced Travis, extending all the way out beyond the 3-point line to deny the pass.
The plan wasn’t for Mykhailiuk to face-guard Travis for a full 40 minutes, but it did seem like denying the pass to Travis in the first place was a key focus for the KU wings.
At the very least, they showed more focus and awareness out on the perimeter than had typically been the case this season.
Just watch Marcus Garrett (No. 0) on this possession...
And Sam Cunliffe (No. 3) on this one…
As for post defense — seen a little bit in the clip above — the Jayhawks primarily kept a man in front of Travis in the post, relying on help to come from the back-side.
Part of Self’s criticism in the last Stanford game had come from a lack of attention to the scouting report.
“You’ve got to play your man before he catches it,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go where he wanted to go."
Mykhailiuk did have some lapses in focus throughout the game, over-helping at points in the first half and allowing Travis to post up late, but the Stanford guards didn’t always find him.
Travis’ first 2-point shot attempt didn’t come until more than six minutes into the game. Once again, it was Mykhailiuk sliding his feet to get in front of Travis and forcing him into a mid-range attempt that fell off the mark.
That possession actually carried with it all of the principles described.
Mykhailiuk got in front of Travis in the post and denied the entry. He followed him out to the perimeter and forced the miss and then even came up with the rebound, although the play was blown dead due to a Stanford technical foul.
Regardless, all of that played a role in the Jayhawks holding Travis to such a quiet outing.
The big man finished with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He got to the line for only three free throws, which marked his lowest since a February 22 matchup with Oregon State the year before.
And best of all, the effort earned a thumbs up from the coach.
“I thought,” Self said, “we did a great job defensively on him."
For a Kansas basketball freshman, no descriptor should carry more weight from Bill Self than the word “tough.”
It’s a word the KU coach doesn’t throw around. Players have to earn it. Self assigns it far less frequently than a word representing the opposite — soft — which he can be heard shouting in disgust from the sidelines of games and practices, usually with a matching facial expression.
In that regard, Marcus Garrett fits the mold of one of Self’s favorite freshmen. The raw materials are just a little different.
“Marcus is going to be a really good player,” Self said. “I think he’s one of our tougher guys.”
Now press pause and jump back a year.
Josh Jackson’s days were numbered from the moment he stepped on campus.
Everyone knew he was a one-and-done and likely top-five NBA draft selection, despite what the swingman said, asked about that very topic in a press conference in February.
At the very least, the Big 12 coaches had a pretty good idea of Jackson's future. That included Self.
“We had a 6-8 guard that could rebound and block shots and defend, and he wasn’t a normal guy,” Self said of Jackson. ‘He was a guard, but he could do anything. And he was a matchup nightmare for others.”
Garrett will not be those things, at least at first. He doesn’t have Jackson’s athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, Garrett doesn’t have Jackson's size
Garrett can, however, replicate some of the things that made Jackson what he was. His Allen Fieldhouse debut was a step in the right direction.
The do-everything, hybrid guard-wing-whatever-he-is was asked to play the four, as well as in the backcourt. Garrett defended in the post and on the perimeter. He both threw and received inbounds and outlet passes. He didn't let a veteran opponent take advantage of him.
Same mold. Different material.
“He’s a really tough guy and that’s going to help us a lot,” said guard Svi Mykhailiuk.
Defensively, Garrett was tested. Several Pittsburg State players tried to go at him, to varying success.
Late in the first half, Demetrius Levarity received a pass on the right wing. He tried a hesitation dribble to get by Garrett. Then he spun back to his left to attempt a hook over his right shoulder. Garrett forced a tie-up and then ripped the ball away.
One possession later, Garrett was hounding Jabari Antwine. Antwine was trying to get the ball into the post, where the 6-foot-7 Levarity was being guarded by 6-foot-2 Devonté Graham.
Garrett’s activity forced the Gorillas to look elsewhere. They ended up getting called for a shot-clock violation.
“He gets his hands on a lot of balls. That’s what he does,” Self said. “He’s not going to be a guy that’s going to average double figures as a freshman. But he can be a guy that can steal us a lot of extra possessions.”
And yet, there are still the moments that will drive his coach crazy.
With just over two minutes to play in the first half, Garrett trailed Graham up the court.
Graham passed Garrett the ball and he shot a contested 3. The ball didn’t move from side to side, a staple of not only Self’s offense, but also that of Garrett’s former coach. The possession lasted seven seconds.
Earlier in the first half, Garrett poked a ball away. Rather than passing it to an open Mykhailiuk, who was running up the floor, he began to dribble.
Garrett turned it over and Billy Preston had to step in and take a foul to stop a layup. Self screamed in frustration from the bench.
In those moments, the freshman looked like a freshman, as compared to the “freshman, but he’s not really a freshman” Self had a year ago.
“Maybe the biggest dog in college basketball as a freshman last year,” Self said of Jackson. “I mean, he was an assassin.”
The good news for Garrett is that he doesn’t need to be just yet.
It’s unlikely Garrett will play a meaningful minute this season without two of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick on the floor, meaning his developing 3-point shot won’t need to come around overnight.
For now, Garrett can play his way. That means straight-line drives to the basket to draw fouls — he shot a game-high eight free throws — and a little bit of everything else, like the five rebounds (two offensive), three assists, one steal and one block he tallied against Pittsburg State.
By the time he’s an upperclassman, though, would it shock anyone if these words that Self spoke of Jackson last year were being spoken about him?
“God, did he play good. I mean he played good. He showed America tonight that’s about as versatile of a player as there is in the college game.”