The Day After: World University Games champions
At times, the United States/Kansas University men's basketball team played sloppy in the World University Games. It wasn't always pretty to watch. That's what a stretch of eight games in 10 days will do to players.
But the Jayhawks dug deep, and earned the first U.S. gold medal at the games in 10 years with an 84-77, double-overtime victory against Germany on Monday at Yeomju Gymnasium.
The big three — Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis and junior guards Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III — combined for 59 points, scoring 38 of USA's 46 points in the second half and overtimes.
Mason was dominant in the final minutes, scoring 11 points in the last 14 minutes with game-tying free throws in regulation, driving for a game-tying layup in the first overtime and assisting on the go-ahead three-pointer from Selden in the second overtime.
Any time the Jayhawks faced a deficit in the tournament, they fought back with their defense and turned it into points.
KUsports.com's Tom Keegan wrote a great column on the "next play" approach that helped the Jayhawks earn the gold and gain some momentum heading into next season. One key point he made is that if people want to downplay this tournament, they certainly can find reasons to do so.
But the top teams that the Jayhawks played — Turkey, Brazil, Serbia, Lithuania, Russia and Germany — would all be solid mid-major teams at the NCAA level. They couldn't match USA's athleticism, but they had size, strength, maturity and some had played together for years. Regardless of their level, winning eight games in 10 days against any level of teams is an incredible accomplishment. You can't do that by accident or luck, and the Jayhawks certainly deserve recognition for their gold.
Every time the Jayhawks fell into a deficit, they somehow found ways to fight back. It was easy to see they were a tired team. Germany made some clutch shots. But they simply willed themselves to a victory, whether it was through some key steals on defense, a dominant performance on the glass, or clutch baskets in the final minutes. If there's one thing that should carry over from Korea to next season, it's their ability to close out games.
Three reasons to smile
1 – In the final minutes, when the Jayhawks had to score, fearless Frank Mason delivered. Mason scored 11 points in the final 14 minutes. Down five with about three minutes left, he drained a three after missing his first three shots of the fourth quarter. Then he made two game-tying free throws and scored six points in the two overtimes.
“He’s a pretty good player,” Germany's point guard Konstantin Klein said of Mason. “He’s got good ball-handling skills. He can penetrate. He can shoot the ball. He’s the best point guard in the tournament. He did a pretty good job.”
2 – The Jayhawks controlled the glass against the top rebounding team in the tournament. Germany's players prided themselves on dominating the glass, which helped push them toward the top of most defensive statistics, forcing opponents into one shot possessions. But the Jayhawks couldn't be denied on Monday. They won the rebounding battle, 59-46, with 23 offensive boards, which led to 22 second-chance points (25-16 rebounding advantage in overtimes). Ellis had 10, Selden and Mason both had nine, Lucas finished with eight and Moore added six.
It was an offensive rebound by Selden that set up Mason's game-tying free throws in regulation, otherwise Germany would've had the ball with a two-point lead and just 27 seconds left.
3 – The Jayhawks walked away from the World University Games with a gold medal and no long-term injuries. After sophomore guard Devonté Graham went down with a quad injury before the tournament, freshman forward Carlton Bragg broke his nose in the second practice in Korea, and Ellis "tweaked" an ankle, there were questions about the risk vs. reward of playing this hard in July.
But Ellis' ankle is fine (though he did get a black eye in the semifinals). Bragg played without a mask for the last few games and will likely have surgery soon to repair his nose. Graham went on the trip, had fun, and should be ready to go by the fall. All in all, a very successful trip without any harm done for the upcoming season.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – It doesn't take a trained eye to see that the Jayhawks were exhausted and it affected their shooting. For the first time since arriving in Korea, Selden looked human on offense, shooting 6-for-28 from the field and 2-of-11 from deep. Ellis was 6-of-21, Moore went 2-for-10, and Mason finished 6-of-13. The Jayhawks shot 32 percent (27-of-85) and only 22 percent from three (5-of-23).
2 – I know it's a love and hate relationship with the fan base, but the Jayhawks will miss Nic Moore and Julian DeBose's contributions to the team. Moore never shot the ball well in the tournament (he shot 42 percent from deep at SMU last year), but he was a leader from day one with KU players. His relentless hustle was contagious for the Jayhawks and he made some big defensive plays, whether it was rebounds or steals, in crunch time.
DeBose brought energy off of the bench and he played well when paired up with KU freshman Lagerald Vick in the backcourt. I don't think it's easy fitting into a team where you're the only new guys, but they both did just that.
3 – Tom Keegan pointed it out on Twitter, and I couldn't agree more. It's a shame that the NCAA doesn't have international rules for the end of the games. In FIBA games, teams have a limit of two timeouts per team in the final two minutes. It was refreshing to see exciting games finish with flow instead of endless timeouts and reviews at the monitor. I know the 30-second shot clock received the biggest headlines for college basketball this upcoming season, but I was happiest seeing the adjustment on media and team timeouts.
That's a wrap from Korea. After eight games in 10 days, the Jayhawks are off until a Nov. 4 exhibition game against Pittsburg State at Allen Fieldhouse.
Thanks for reading all of our coverage on KUSports.com. If you missed it, Tuesday's Lawrence Journal-World had a front page and special section commemorating the gold-medal run. For those not in our paper's delivery area, call 785-843-1000 to get a copy.