The Day After: USA wins big in scrimmage against China
Team USA shined in its final tune-up before the World University Games opener, out-running and out-hustling China for a 93-56 victory in a scrimmage on Thursday at Seolwol Girls' High.
I'm stealing a page out of fellow KUsports.com writer Matt Tait's playbook with "The Day After" blog. Just a quick way to digest some positives and negatives from each game in Korea.
China had a size advantage over the Jayhawks but it wasn't a factor because of KU's speed. By the time the second half rolled around, China would turn the ball over at mid-court or behind its three-point line, leading to easy buckets for the Jayhawks.
KU had eight players finish with at least nine points. Freshman Lagerald Vick led with 13 points (6-of-13). He played in the final minutes of the fourth quarter with the score getting out of hand and made his last four shots.
Hunter Mickelson (12), Jamari Traylor (12), Perry Ellis (11), Wayne Selden (11), Landen Lucas (10) and Nic Moore (9) were the other players with at least nine points. Frank Mason was the only starter who didn't pile on the points (Tyler Self had 2 points and Evan Manning didn't score). Mason had five assists, but just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. KU coach Bill Self said Mason told him beforehand "he still doesn’t have his legs under him yet." Most of the team is still dealing a little bit with jet lag, but everyone says they'll be ready to go by Saturday.
The Jayhawks open their tournament against Turkey at noon Saturday (10 p.m. Friday CDT). Not much is known about Turkey, but Lucas did mention that he heard it was a physical team.
The Jayhawks are still working to get their bodies back to normal after the big time change, but they used their speed to get easy baskets in transition against China. The first quarter was back and forth with the Jayhawks missing some shots in half court sets and some shots around the rim, but it was all KU afterward. The big thing was everyone contributed and each player had some positive moments. Will this momentum carry over to Turkey in the tournament opener? That remains to be seen.
Three reasons to smile
1 – The Jayhawks want to get out and run in the open floor, and they took full advantage of that on Thursday. No official stats were kept but the Jayhawks scored a ton of fast-break points. Mason, Selden and Moore are strong at leading the break and setting up their teammates for easy scores.
2 – Despite no referees and a little extra contact inside the paint, KU's forwards didn't have many problems finishing at the rim. All of the forwards (Lucas, Ellis, Mickelson and Traylor) ran the floor well on Thursday and converted a number of dunks. But they also had some strong post-ups in the paint and adjusted to the contact after the first quarter to finish inside. On defense, they played well in the second half after China's forwards began to tire and didn't have the legs to score in the paint.
3 – The Jayhawks shared the ball well, leading to eight players finishing with nine or more points KU did a good job of finding the hot hand when necessary and found the extra man in transition. I had the Jayhawks down for 20 assists on their 43 made baskets, with at least two from Mason, Selden, Moore, Ellis, Vick and Traylor.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The on-ball defense by KU guards still isn't where it needs to be. There's still a few moments where opposing guards are able to drive into the middle of the defense and make plays. With Mason and Selden playing 32+ minutes in the final exhibition game against Canada, and 28 minutes from Moore, the Jayhawks are going to need to rely on Vick and DeBose for some quality minutes.
"Against really good guards, you can’t go out and attack the ball like that, they’ll go right around you," Self said. "They did fine. At times, we can be pretty good defensively. But we don’t really have a low-post presence in there to block shots or alter so we need to do a better job of keeping the ball in front of them on the perimeter so we don’t break down as much."
"Julian is going to be fine," Self added. "He’s a good athlete, but he needs to be a good defensive player for us and a good rebounder. Just give us good minutes. We’re not very deep at guard at all so we need him and Legerald to give us some good minutes. We can’t play those three guys 35 minutes every game. So they need to step up and play better."
2 – Not sure if the ball feels different, but the Jayhawks haven't shot well from behind the three-point line in their exhibition games. Against Canada in two games last week at Sprint Center, KU shot a combined 10-for-38 (26 percent). It was a little better against China, 7-for-20 (35 percent), but the three-ball hasn't been a reliable weapon. That's also a product of not having Brannen Greene or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk on the court.
3 – China didn't give KU the best look before the games begin. Self said the Jayhawks are still working on getting their conditioning up, but they ran past China throughout the scrimmage. There were a few plays where China didn't really rush back on defense. At the 2013 World University Games, China went 1-4 in pool-play and finished in 22nd place.
The Jayhawks will open pool-play against Turkey at noon on Saturday at DongKang College Gymnasium (10 p.m. Friday CDT). It's a nice place, built in 1998, holding 2,924 seats. It will be broadcasted on ESPNU with Danny Lee (play-by-play) and Kevin Lehman (color analyst). We will have a live blog, just like any regular season game, right here on KUsports.com.