The Day After: Selden, Ellis carry USA to gold-medal game
When the United States' men's basketball players traveled to South Korea on June 29, they weren't quite sure what to expect from the competition.
Not many people knew what to expect from the Jayhawks, playing without four players — Devonté Graham, Brannen Greenne, Cheick Diallo and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk — who are expected to play regular minutes this season.
But nearly three weeks later, the Jayhawks have proven themselves on the international stage, defeating Russia, 78-68, on Sunday to advance to the gold-medal game to play Germany.
KU junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. has been the star of the show, and he stepped up with his own personal 5-0 run to give USA a lead in the fourth quarter that it would never give up. He finished with 22 points, continuing his aggression on drives and sharp shooting from the perimeter.
Senior forward Perry Ellis scored a game-high 23 points, fighting back after a slow 1-of-7 start from the field. Junior point guard Frank Mason III added 10 points, six rebounds and four assists. Off the bench, junior forward Landen Lucas had another strong game with seven points, five rebounds and two assists.
After watching their 12-point lead turn into a one-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks turned up their defense — like they have all tournament — and pulled away for a semifinal win. Selden and Ellis carried the offense in the second half with big baskets, while the rest of their teammates stepped in with timely baskets. Once again in this tournament, the Jayhawks just ran past their opponent in the final minutes.
Three reasons to smile
1 – When the Jayhawks needed some offense, Selden and Ellis stepped up. If I took a poll of KU fans on who needs to step up next season for the Jayhawks to make a deep run in the postseason and win another conference title, Ellis and Selden would probably lead the list. They were dominant on Sunday, combining for 45 of the team's 78 points, including some of the biggest baskets in the fourth quarter.
"My teammates found me," Selden said. "It’s so easy to play off Frank because he can go by anybody in the country — anybody in the world. It’s good to do that. I just feed off him. Wherever he goes, that means my man has to help and he’s really the one that gets me in the lane."
2 – For the second straight game, the Jayhawks played air-tight defense down the stretch. It's not like the Jayhawks are practicing all week, preparing for these opponents. They have a small scouting report and they've been executing it to near perfection in the past few games.
In the fourth quarter, Russia made three of its first four shots, jumping to a 62-61 lead. Afterward, Russia was held to 1-of-7 shooting with three turnovers.
"Yeah, just do what we did yesterday," Lucas said of the message when Russia went on a 13-0 run. "And that’s was guard. It starts on the defensive end. The rest will come and I think we did that again today."
3 – With their backs against the wall, the Jayhawks responded with a 17-6 run to win the game in the final minutes. If there was any question about their killer instinct in this tournament, the Jayhawks have stepped up when it matters most. Selden hit a step back three to take the lead, grabbed a defensive rebound and ran down the court for a spinning layup.
Following a Russia turnover, SMU senior guard Nic Moore hit a deep jumper, then Perry Ellis responded to a Russian layup with a bucket of his own.
"I have a lot of confidence in Wayne," Mason said. "He’s showed it all tournament. He’s been the best player here so far. Hopefully he can keep that going tomorrow and get the gold."
Ellis added: "We’ve been in that situation before. Wayne has stepped up. He made shots. It was big."
Three reasons to sigh
1 – It's tough to find negatives in Sunday's win. The Jayhawks didn't play a perfect game, but it was probably their best all-around game of the tournament. But since we need to find something, the Jayhawks are having some problems with foul trouble. Moore and senior forward Hunter Mickelson both had to sit on the bench at various points with fouls.
Fortunately, the bench (Lagerald Vick for Moore, Lucas and Carlton Bragg for Mickelson) stepped up with quality minutes.
"I thought Landen was terrific again," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I thought Hunter was terrific again. I thought Carlton gave us great minutes. I thought Lagerald gave us great minutes. It was the best game we played, without question."
2 – The Jayhawks had a rough start, trailing by four at the end of the first quarter. It took the Jayhawks a few minutes to adjust to Russia's length and size in the lane. Ellis started 1-of-7 from the field trying to shoot over them and fight for position in the paint. USA shot 5-of-19 in the first quarter (26 percent).
"They were tall," Lucas said. "Then their four-man could shoot all of the time so they definitely were tough."
Mason added: "I think that’s the biggest team we’ve played. They played great together. They had a great point guard, which got everyone involved in the game. He made plays for them. They’re a good team, but we’re just happy we got the win."
3 – The Jayhawks had a bad stretch after taking a 12-point lead, watching Russia go on a 13-0 run over five minutes. In Russia's big run, the Jayhawks missed seven shots and turned the ball over five times.
Of course, Selden stepped up with some clutch plays afterward, but the Jayhawks need to protect big leads better.
The Jayhawks will play Germany in the World University Games gold-medal game at 9 p.m. Monday (7 a.m. CDT) at Yeomju Gymnasium. Germany (6-0) leads the tournament in rebounding with 50.5 boards per game and ranks second in points allowed (53.5).
It's the 17th time the U.S. will play for the gold medal in the World University Games, first time since 2005 when it was led by guys like Randy Foye (Villanova), Shelden Williams (Duke), Gerry McNamara (Syracuse) and Craig Smith (Boston College). The U.S. is 13-3 in gold medal games and owns a 4-0 record against Germany.
In bracket play, Germany beat Canada, 79-73, and Brazil, 59-49.
The game will be broadcast by ESPNU and we will have a live blog, just like any regular season game, right here on KUsports.com.