OMAHA, Neb. — Malik Newman noticed a change in the Jayhawks after they took a 20-point lead over Clemson.
“We kind of relaxed,” Newman said after KU’s 80-76 win. “We stopped being as aggressive.”
While the Jayhawks allowed the deficit to slowly get cut down to four, they managed to outlast the Tigers, thanks in part to a key play by Devonte’ Graham.
While the senior didn’t have his best game, shooting just 4 for 12 and committing three turnovers, Newman noted there were other things he did in the win.
“He’s a winner. He’s a winner,” Newman said. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s in his DNA.”
OMAHA, Neb. — Svi Mykhailiuk isn’t sure the Jayhawks are playing their best basketball at the moment.
At the same time...
“It doesn’t matter how we play,” Mykhailiuk said. “We’ve just got to win.”
The senior was held to just nine points and four rebounds in KU’s 80-76 win. While it wasn’t the smoothest performance for the team — at one point, KU led by 20 — Mykhailiuk was quick to note that KU is more than ready for another chance to play for a Final Four.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Mykhailiuk said. “We’ve just got to come prepared and be ready to guard and compete.”
OMAHA, Neb. — After playing 25 minutes in KU’s 80-76 win over Clemson, Udoka Azubuike was asked about his injured left knee, which had hindered him in postseason play.
“I feel good,” Azubuike said. “Like I said, it’s a gradual process. I’m feeling better, day by day. I’m getting better.”
The big man from Delta, Nigeria scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. He blocked two shots and rounded out his line with an assist.
After the game, Azubuike spoke in a quiet tone as he addressed reporters. Asked about his mood, though, the sophomore perked up.
“We’re in the Elite Eight,” Azubuike said. “I’m happy.”
OMAHA, Neb. — Malik Newman's recent uptick has him looking like a player many haven't seen in quite some time.
All the way back to AAU, one reporter inquired?
"I wouldn't say that," Newman said with a smile. "but we are seeing a different Malik Newman."
Part of what's led to Newman's uptick, the sophomore said, has been an increased focus on the defensive end. That came from coach Bill Self, who Newman said has reminded him about the importance of being good on both ends of the floor.
"You won't be a complete player until you can defend," Newman recalled Self saying. "That's something he always tells me."
OMAHA, Neb. — Devonte' Graham didn't have his most efficient games in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Still, the KU guard wasn't worried about having to shake off his combined 10-for-31 shooting performance against Penn and Seton Hall.
"I'm fine. That game (against Seton Hall) didn't bother me," Graham said. "At the end of the day it's all about winning. Stats don't really matter at this time of the year."
Speaking off winning, Graham was asked about the success of the Big 12, which has four teams in the Sweet 16. Graham said he was happy for all the Big 12 teams, a statement that piqued the interest of one nearby reporter.
"Even K-State?" the reporter asked.
"Even K-State," Graham repeated.
OMAHA, Neb. — Udoka Azubuike's knee brace served as a reminder he's not completely healed from a left knee injury he suffered before the Big 12 tournament.
However, the 7-foot, 280-pound Delta, Nigeria-native gave a relatively positive outlook when asked how he was feeling.
"It's feeling better, way better than I was last week," Azubuike said. "Yeah, I'm ready."
Azubuike said he couldn't put a percentage on how healthy he felt, but he did note things are moving in the right direction.
"Obviously not 100 percent," he said, "but I'm getting there."
Omaha, Neb. — During the NCAA Tournament it’s common for coaches and players to compare an upcoming opponent to a team they faced earlier in the season.
Asked Thursday at CenturyLink Center whether Clemson reminded him of any team Kansas took on this year, head coach Bill Self explained the No. 5 seed Tigers actually look similar to the Jayhawks.
“I think if I was going to compare them to anybody I’d compare them to us,” Self said, noting how KU almost always has starting guards Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick on the floor. “You could say the same thing about their threesome.”
Clemson relies on starting guards Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe for the much of its offense.
“They have three. But all three of those guys are like Malik — they can go out and get 30. Or they could be like Devonte’ and go get 35 or they could be like Svi and get 30,” Self said. “These guys can really score the ball and they’re good with the ball, and the other thing that they probably do better than us in that regard is they can go get their own shot when the offense breaks down.”
OMAHA, Neb. — Ahead of a Sweet 16 showdown against No. 1 seed Kansas, Clemson forward Elijah Thomas wanted to be clear that the Tigers weren't necessarily selling out to try and find a way to thwart Kansas' style of play.
"We focus on ourselves," said Thomas. "We don't necessarily key in on players and what not. We just, you know, do us."
Several Clemson players had praise for their Thursday opponent, but at the same time they were careful to note the stage wouldn't be too big.
"They're a good team," said guard Marcquise Reed. "The ACC definitely prepared us for the NCAA tournament, going against top tier teams every night. Had the No. 1 team in conference. So it was just a lot of competition."
Omaha, Neb. — Shortly after his Kansas basketball team arrived at its hotel Wednesday night, coach Bill Self said his top-seeded Jayhawks are as healthy as they have been all season, ahead of their Sweet 16 matchup with Clemson.
What’s more, Self said 7-foot KU center Udoka Azubuike has been participating at full speed.
“Now, his timing may not be great,” Self warned of Azubuike, who recently sprained the MCL in his left knee, “but his health is good. If we take him out it’ll probably be because he picks up two silly fouls early, not because of any type of problems.”
The Jayhawks (29-7) take on the Tigers (25-9) at 6:07 p.m. Friday, at CenturyLink Center.
Wichita — Devonte' Graham and the Jayhawks needed a big performance from their biggest player against Seton Hall.
In their 83-79 win, it was exactly what they got.
"He told us he was going to be ready to play," Graham said of the hobbled Udoka Azubuike. "It just enabled us to play four around one."
Azubuike finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. Azubuike played only 22 minutes, but Graham felt he could have had even better numbers if the Jayhawks had gotten him the ball more in the first half.
"I said it at halftime, 'We've got to start throwing him the ball,'" Graham said. "We had to throw the ball to the big fella."