A supporting starter for the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Ochai Agbaji often blends in more than he stands out.
That doesn’t mean his head coach, Bill Self, wants Agbaji playing passively on offense. With the attention Kansas opponents must give to the Jayhawks’ inside-outside duo of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, opportunities for Agbaji often materialize. And when they do, KU needs the agreeable Agbaji taking advantage.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard’s defense, athleticism and energy keep Agbaji on the court for Kansas (25-3 overall, 14-1 Big 12). That’s why he played 39 minutes in the Jayhawks’ vital win at Baylor, despite going scoreless for the first time this season and just the third time in his 44-game college career.
“I was definitely happy for my teammates, happy for the outcome of the game,” Agbaji said of his zero points in a crucial victory. “Our main goal was just go down there and win, no matter what. Any way we can do it. So, I mean, if it takes me not even scoring and us getting the ‘W,’ then I'll have that every single day.”
Even so, with just a handful of games left in the regular season, Monday night’s matchup with Oklahoma State was no time for Agbaji to fade into the background, on the heels of an 0-for-5 outing at Baylor.
So Self was pleased to see Agbaji produce 15 points, while going 5-for-9 from the field and 2-for-6 on 3-pointers versus the Cowboys.
“A lot better,” Self said of Agbaji’s offensive approach in an 83-58 KU win. “Aggressive. Shot a couple balls right off the bat.”
It all began for Agbaji with an assist from the Jayhawks’ dominating big man, Azubuike. Dotson had just thrown KU’s senior center an entry pass into the paint, and as Azubuike gathered inside, OSU took for an ultra-aggressive approach, sending four defenders at the 7-footer. Azubuike reacted by spotting Agbaji in the nearby left corner, and the sophomore side-stepped into a successful 3-pointer for KU’s first basket of the night.
That quick start had Agbaji confident enough to catch and fire quickly off a defensive stop on KU’s next possession. And although that 3 misfired, it didn’t put an end to his self-assured offensive mindset — which is exactly the attitude his head coach wants Agbaji to have.
He showed briefly he can do that as a playmaker, as well. At an early juncture of the first half, Agbaji dribbled hard toward the paint from the left wing, forcing the OSU defense to react. His decisive attack off the bounce created the opening Isaiah Moss needed to drain a wide-open 3-pointer and gave Agbaji an assist.
His most eye-popping moment, though, came above the rim. With a David McCormack block on defense serving as the catalyst for a fast break, Agbaji sprinted down the left side of the floor. His instincts and hustle led him to the rim, as Dotson served up a lob that Agbaji slammed.
Late in the first half, Agbaji again looked authoritative with the ball in his hands, driving right at OSU’s Lindy Waters III on a poor closeout, drawing a foul that led to two made free throws.
Even though Agbaji missed two well contested 3-pointers in the final seconds of the first half, with the clock influencing his decision to take those shots when he wouldn’t have to force them in most situations, he came right back out in the second half ready to help put OSU away.
A few minutes removed from the halftime break, Agbaji found a larger defender, Cameron McGriff, checking him on the perimeter. So Agbaji went into attack mode, crossing over the 6-foot-7 forward and finishing over McGriff with a runner off the glass while drawing a foul for a 3-point play.
Just more than a minute later, Agbaji caught a pass on the right wing with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Azubuike came up to set a screen for him and Agbaji used that opportunity to dribble into a 3-pointer that put KU up by 13 points.
Agbaji’s final points of his fifth double-digit scoring game in Big 12 play this season, once again, were the result of his firm response to a defensive opening.
When OSU opted to trap Marcus Garrett near mid-court, it left three defenders to cover four Jayhawks and a lot of space for Agbaji to operate once Garrett threw him a pass out on the right side. Agbaji wasted no time in determining a plan of action and dribbled into a rhythm jumper, which he buried from just behind the right elbow.
Self appreciated that Agbaji repeatedly sought out shots for himself.
“I don’t know football very well, but it seems like they’re playing nine in the box or whatever they call it,” Self said of defenses the Jayhawks have faced. “And it seems like to me you’ve got to throw long every now and then, even if it’s incomplete just to stretch the defense. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to shoot the ball to stretch the defense. When we do that, it opens up a lot more driving area and lanes.”
KU’s best and most used lineup versus OSU had Agbaji out on the court with Dotson, Azubuike, Garrett and Moss — KU’s starting five for the past four games. That unit played 15:09 versus OSU and outscored the Cowboys, 34-18.
What makes Agbaji (averaging 10.1 points a game this season, on 43% shooting and 34.1% 3-point accuracy) such a good fit as a third or fourth scoring option is KU doesn’t have to run actions for him for Agbaji to produce. Just as he showed versus OSU, reading and reacting can help him accumulate points effectively. Having an assertive approach in those moments brings out the best in Agbaji.
The Jayhawks don’t always need points from Agbaji, but his teammates and coaches do want him bringing an opportunistic attitude on offense.
“Defensively, he's been pretty solid and good, basically all year long,” Self said. “But tonight he was different. He was different offensively. Much more confident.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 83-58 win over Oklahoma State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks weren’t always knocking down the 3-pointers the Cowboys invited them to take. But the offense didn’t ultimately suffer for KU as a result.
After a low-percentage first half of shooting (34.4% from the field), the Jayhawks finally got rolling a few minutes into the second half.
They connected on nine shots in a row to bury OSU, with four of their baskets in that stretch coming at the rim.
• KU finished 44% from the field in the easy home victory. The Jayhawks went 10-for-28 on 3-pointers and scored 28 points in the paint.
• The Cowboys spent much of the loss shooting in the low 30s, percentage wise.
Their 13 turnovers didn’t help, either, on a night OSU shot 38% from the floor. The Cowboys had to find and hit 3-pointers to stand a chance, but KU held them to 3-for-12.
• KU star senior center Udoka Azubuike looked ready for the attention OSU would give him from the opening moments of the rout.
Four OSU defenders zeroed in on the KU big man on an early touch and Azubuike wisely and quickly kicked the ball out to Ochai Agbaji for a wide-open 3-pointer, which the sophomore guard drained.
Azubuike wouldn’t be denied his chances to score, though, as he helped KU demolish OSU inside, all while he kept giving the Jayhawks high-level rim protection, too.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer left the latest win with 19 points, 16 rebounds 3 blocked shots and a 7-for-8 night at the free throw line.
• Devon Dotson only shot 3-for-12 in the win. The sophomore point guard helped make up for that with his defense, as well as 4 assists and 5 boards on his 11-point night.
• Isaiah Moss quickly set his feet for his second shot attempt of the evening, a great look at the hoop from the top of the key, and the grad transfer knocked it down with the OSU defense collapsing on the interior any time KU got the ball inside. He looked like the perfect solution to OSU’s defensive strategy.
Moss finished 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. Not exactly a game-changer, but the exact kind of solid production KU need from him.
• Ochai Agbaji bounced back nicely from a scoreless game at Baylor, putting up 15 against OSU, to go with his typical defensive effort.
• Marcus Garrett was the best creator and distributor among KU’s guards, dishing 7 assists.
His defense, as always, made him a huge bonus for the Jayhawks’ lineups, too, on a night Garrett produced 5 points and 3 rebounds.
• David McCormack early on looked explosive on an offensive rebound and follow jam, hranessing his energy for good.
McCormack wasn’t done there, either, with the blowout allowing him to get plenty of quality minutes. The sophomore backup big came away with 10 points and 4 rebounds, plus 1 block.
• Christian Braun looked confident with the ball in his hands again, and was a shooter that gave OSU trouble, as he went 3-for-4 from deep.
• The KU subs outscored OSU’s, 24-13.
With the momentous rematch between the Big 12’s two dominant teams drawing nearer by the hour, it’s important to remember that Kansas should be bringing a much different look into Round 2 with Baylor.
It was during the two teams’ first meeting on Jan. 11 that Devon Dotson suffered a hip pointer late in the first half. KU’s starting point guard and leading scorer would only play eight minutes in the second half due to the pain and clearly wasn’t himself during the 67-55 Baylor win at Allen Fieldhouse. The injury would force Dotson to miss KU’s next game, at Oklahoma three days later.
To say that Dotson’s injury altered the trajectory of the first matchup between the Jayhawks and Bears would be inaccurate. Baylor led by as many as 17 points in the first half, before Dotson got hurt, and BU took a 12-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
The hip injury did, however, keep the Jayhawks from being able to run out their best lineups as often as Bill Self would have liked against the Bears.
In recent weeks, as the Jayhawks (23-3 overall, 12-1 Big 12) have rattled off 11 consecutive wins since losing to Baylor (24-1, 13-0), Self has relied on some combination of four guards and 7-footer Udoka Azubuike to wear down lesser opponents on both ends of the court. And the best lineups, of course, always feature Dotson, KU’s fastest guard and leading scorer (17.8 points per game in Big 12 contests).
Because Dotson’s availability was altered, the Bears only saw a little more than 11 minutes of the very best units KU can put on the floor.
As Self has almost completely gone away from the two-big lineups that he even used as a starting five earlier in the season, the best combinations game in and game out have included Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Azubuike and either Isaiah Moss or Christian Braun.
Listen here to our latest KU Sports Hour podcast, breaking down the KU-Baylor battle:
Against Baylor, KU’s lineup of Garrett, Dotson, Moss, Agbaji and Azubuike played 8:55, outscoring the Bears, 17-14, in that time. Swap in Braun for Moss and the 1B lineup spent 2:15 on the floor, with BU holding a 7-4 advantage.
Look at those same lineups in more recent KU games and you’ll see that the Jayhawks typically get to play longer with their most effective groups than the 11:10 they had versus Baylor.
In their past five outings, the Jayhawks used their two best lineups 18:02 against Texas, 16:05 at TCU, 22:02 at West Virginia, 22:19 against Oklahoma and 14:02 versus Iowa State.
Sometimes it’s the Moss lineup that works better and other days the one with Braun does the trick. But Self always has time to figure out which one will be best for a given opponent in the flow of each game.
When its two best lineups were on the court, KU outscored Texas by 10, TCU by 9, WVU by 19, OU by 26 and ISU by 10.
Baylor is obviously better than every other Big 12 opponent on KU’s schedule. The Bears’ defense, led by Davion Mitchell, Freddie Gillespie and Mark Vital, has proven fierce in the half court, regardless of the level of competition. Much like KU, Baylor’s defense (No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com) has made it elite this season, as the Bears take a Big 12-record 23-game winning streak into Saturday’s rematch in Waco, Texas.
Dotson and Garrett will have to find the driving lanes that seem so impassable against Baylor’s perimeter defense in order for the Jayhawks to find success offensively. And every KU guard will have to be ready to knock down 3-pointers off whatever penetration and Azubuike post touches KU can muster.
With a healthy Dotson in the mix for the rematch, the Jayhawks should at least get more cracks at solving the Bears.
And they won’t be wasting any time with lineups that don’t function at all.
KU started Azubuike and David McCormack earlier in the season. That two-big look didn’t do the Jayhawks any good against Baylor.
The starting lineup of Garrett, Dotson, Agbaji, McCormack and Azubuike played two stretches against Baylor, totaling 5:20. The Jayhawks were outscored, 13-3, a virtual disaster offensively and a bad matchup defensively versus the Bears.
On Saturday, Baylor won’t see that KU lineup, but the Bears should get plenty of chances to try and prove they can stop the Jayhawks when they’re at their best.
KU’s most effective lineups
Garrett, Dotson, Moss, Agbaji, Azubuike
• vs. Baylor on Jan. 11: 8:55, outscored BU, 17-14
• vs. Texas on Feb. 4: 10:55, tied UT, 17-17
• at TCU on Feb. 8: 9:40, outscored TCU, 18-9
• at West Virginia on Feb. 13: 16:12, outscored WVU, 29-10
• vs. Oklahoma on Feb. 15: 22:19, outscored OU, 54-28
• vs. Iowa State on Feb. 18: 10:02, outscored ISU, 24-21
Garrett, Dotson, Braun, Agbaji, Azubuike
• vs. Baylor on Jan. 11: 2:15, got outscored by BU, 7-4
• vs. Texas on Feb. 4: 7:07, outscored UT, 18-8
• at TCU on Feb. 8: 6:25, tied TCU, 6-6
• at West Virginia on Feb. 13: 5:50, tied WVU, 10-10
• vs. Oklahoma on Feb. 15: did not play
• vs. Iowa State on Feb. 18: 4:00, outscored ISU, 15-7
Someone alert Dikembe Mutombo. Finger wagging isn’t just for blocked shots anymore.
At least not in the inventive and adaptive mind of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer went back Monday night, early in the second half versus Iowa State, to what has become his go-to celebration this season, waving his right index finger toward no one in particular.
Unlike past instances, though, the gesture didn’t follow one of Azubuike’s rim-protecting obliterations of an opponent’s shot.
The big center who usually gets his touches in the post or a few feet from the basket, caught the ball on the blue feathers of Allen Fieldhouse’s mid-court Jayhawk, took three dribbles — using the slightest of crossovers — at ISU junior forward Solomon Young and then sold his defender on a hard shoulder and ball fake toward the left side of the paint just to spin back the other direction for a bucket.
As Azubuike ran back to play defense, he shook that finger after showing off his handles and footwork.
“I guess my defender wasn’t expecting me to do that,” Azubuike said of what inspired him to bring his wag to offense.
The not-so-subtle motion former NBA shot blocker and defensive stalwart Mutombo made famous could go on display at any time now when Azubuike is on the floor.
“Just when I feel like doing it, I just do it,” the laughing big man explained, after putting up 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in KU’s 91-71 win.
It wasn’t Mutombo, though, that came to mind for KU point guard Devon Dotson, when he broke down the ball-handling skills Azubuike showed off in taking his man to the hoop.
“He looked like a young Joel Embiid out there,” Dotson proclaimed. “He looked good doing that. Put him in a blender.”
KU’s 20-year old starting center just chuckled at that comparison.
“I don’t know,” Azubuike said of his display being reminiscent of Embiid, the former KU center who is now an All-Star for the Philadelphia 76ers. “I just got the ball and I decided to take my chances and dribble the ball and it got in.”
It’s seldom that Azubuike even has the ball in his hands outside of the 3-point arc, let alone gets a chance to show off his ball-handling ability. The largest man in the building wasn’t about to make anyone think he should become a guard.
Still, he enjoys those rare instances when he can prove there’s more to his game and potential than most realize.
“For a big, I think I can dribble the ball,” Azubuike said. “With my size, I have confidence in my dribbling. So as soon as I got the ball and I saw an open space, I decided to dribble it.”
That instinct might have turned disastrous earlier in his KU career. But not even Azubuike’s staunchest supporter and harshest critic, Bill Self, could complain about what he saw from the center when Azubuike opted to go off the bounce in the half court.
“I thought it was pretty good,” KU’s coach said of the move. “I thought Dok had his moments. He turned it over (six times). He was careless. But I thought that was pretty impressive, what he did, and certainly showed how athletic he is.”
KU’s other active big, David McCormack, said “you never know” what Azubuike might do on a given night. But McCormack wasn’t necessarily surprised to see the senior attacking off the dribble.
The backup center recalled how at the Maui Invitational earlier this season, he witnessed the man everyone calls “Dok” swat a shot and then turn that defensive stop into a personal fast break.
“I don’t put it past him,” McCormack said. “If he can go coast to coast, he can take it from the 3-point line and make a nice move.”
According to Azubuike, he’s working on all of the skills he’s known for, as well as those he isn’t “every time” he’s in the gym.
“For me, some of the stuff we do in college, I don’t really have the space to prove everything I can do,” KU’s confident center shared.
The Jayhawks don’t need him out on the perimeter, though, so most of the time he sticks to his personal offensive responsibilities: posting up, setting screens and rolling to the basket.
“I’m just doing my part,” Azubuike said.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 91-71 win over Iowa State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• KU’s two best offensive players made sure to torch their Iowa State defenders throughout the first half, setting the stage for a highlight factory.
What Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson spearheaded, their teammates made sure to imitate, and layups and dunks became the norm, as the Jayhawks spent most of the first 20 minutes shooting better than 60% from the floor.
They headed to halftime 20-for-33 with 24 points in the paint and a 50-40 lead.
• There really was no stopping the Jayhawks for ISU in the first half. The team that has struggled to connect from downtown most of this season was nowhere to be seen, and KU hit 7 of 14 3-pointers in the opening half of action.
• KU left its Big 12 home win with 57% field goal accuracy, as the Jayhawks shot 12-for-27 from long range and produced 38 points in the paint.
• The only problem for KU in the first half was the defense couldn’t seem to stop Iowa State from long range.
The Cyclones started the night on fire and refused to cool off, draining 9 of their first 11 attempts.
• ISU executed against the normally stingy KU defense to the tune of 55.6% shooting in the first half, when the visitors put up 40 points.
• The Cyclones didn’t find nearly as many 3-point opportunities in the opening minutes of the second half, though, and KU extended its double-digit lead as a result.
ISU’s shooters combined to go 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half, as KU put the Cyclones away.
• Azubuike’s energy in the first half, as ISU’s defense failed to take his touches away, gave KU a noticeable boost.
The Jayhawks’ dominating center went for 10 points in the first half, going to the rim with power every chance he got.
The senior 7-footer finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 swats in the win.
• Dotson was one of three Jayhawks in double figures by halftime as his blazing speed and relentlessness helped set the tone for as entertaining a half of offense as the fieldhouse has seen this season.
KU’s sophomore point guard had 15 points, with the help of 3-for-4 3-point shooting by the break.
He kept on burning ISU defenders in the second half, and not just with his attacks off the dribble. Dotson exploded for 29 points and knocked down 6 of 8 from behind the arc.
• Marcus Garrett tamed down on offense after his absurd Saturday versus Oklahoma. But you knew he would bring it defensively, and he did.
Garrett had 8 rebounds and 3 steals with his 5 points and 6 assists.
• Isaiah Moss never found his way into an offense-friendly type of night for KU.
Early on, Moss tried to attack off the bounce a couple of times and got to the paint, but that’s not his strength. He had a rough miss and a turnover to show for his efforts.
Moss only scored 2 points and went 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
• Ochai Agbaji sought out some layups and open looks for 3 in a productive night versus ISU’s outmatched defense.
The sophomore guard put up 14 points and dished 3 assists while often looking right at home in the uptempo game.
• Christian Braun came out flying and firing, fitting in ideally in the first half.
The freshman turned a steal into a fast-break dunk as KU got rolling in the first half, and went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers, en route to 13 points.
• Thanks primarily to Braun and backup big David McCormack (10 points), KU’s subs outscored ISU’s 28-13.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 87-70 win over Oklahoma on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• KU opened up the game by knocking down some 3-pointers for a change — a promising sign for a team that hadn’t connected on more than four in any of its previous four games.
Marcus Garrett, after turning down an open look early in the shot clock on one possession, didn’t mind taking a 3 in a better situation soon after, knocking down his first 3-pointer since the last KU-OU game. Ochai Agbaji was next to hit one from deep.
After the 2-for-2 start from downtown, KU went 6-for-11 (55%) on 3-pointers in the first half.
• Despite those early 3-pointers, high-percentage looks closer to the hoop didn’t exactly follow in the first half for Kansas. The Jayhawks were hovering around 30% shooting most of the opening 20 minutes, with shots inside the paint a bit of a rarity, unless they were coming in transition.
And they missed 7 layups before halftime, taking a 38% overall shooting percentage into the break.
• KU’s offense made a turn for the better in the second half, as the Jayhawks converted 59% of their shots.
• KU finished 49% from the floor and 11-for-22 on 3-pointers, with 10 turnovers.
• In the first matchup with Oklahoma a month earlier, the Sooners went 8-for-29 from deep but missed a lot of quality looks at the basket. The Jayhawks knew they would have to better defend the arc in the rematch.
KU mostly took care of business in the first half, as OU shot 4-for-10 from deep, with Kristian Doolittle knocking down 2 of them.
In the second half, OU’s 3-point shooting didn’t turn into a massive problem for KU. The Sooners finished their road loss 8-for-24 from long range.
• A few defensive lapses in the first half led to OU layups and a dunk, and the Sooners were outscoring KU inside much of the half. By intermission, OU led 16-14 in points in the paint.
• The team defense KU played in the second half — give the players who shared the floor with Garrett and Udoka Azubuike, too — led to the Sooners shooting 36% from the field in the loss.
• Udoka Azubuike brought an active approach to the early tip-off, even as OU’s defense surrounded him on touches and made it more difficult for him to get his typical great looks in the paint.
That really showed up on the offensive glass, where Azubuike had 5 boards in the first half alone.
The 7-footer secured 10 rebounds by halftime.
• The Sooners effectively limited Azubuike as a scorer in the paint much of the first half, making sure he didn’t catch the ball deep inside, and if he did they had two or three defenders in great position with arms held high to force him into a difficult jump-hook or pass out of the paint. He was 2-for-6 in his first 11 minutes of action, and OU was able to keep up with the Jayhawks as a result.
• In the game’s final 20 minutes, Azubuike couldn’t be so easily bottled up. The senior center opened the half scoring over Brady Manek in the paint. The first time he saw a double, he dished to Ochai Agbaji for a layup. And even when he turned into a double team, making the wrong read, he still gathered an offensive rebound of his own miss for a put-back, as KU padded its lead in the opening minutes of the second half, going up, 50-34.
KU’s dominant big man provided 15 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.
• Garrett continued his defensive dominance against the Sooners, even while burying 3-pointers.
The mastermind defender stole the ball from OU 4 times in the first half and, per usual, didn’t suffer anything close to a defensive letdown as the Jayhawks took a 41-32 lead into halftime.
There’s always variety in Garrett’s stat lines, but this one was particularly impressive: 24 points, 6-for-9 on 3-pointers, 7 assists, 4 steals and 5 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson proved to be as assertive as anyone in a KU uniform, getting to the rim for layups both in the open floor and during half-court trips.
Dotson distributed, as well, making for a productive day for the sophomore point guard, who tallied 19 points and 5 assists, plus 8 rebounds.
• Back in the starting lineup, Moss gave KU that 3-point threat to space the floor offensively, even when he wasn’t taking shots.
But he looked confident and ready to shoot when given the opportunity, too. Moss scored 8 points, while going 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
• Agbaji, who had a couple of fouls barely 6 minutes into the game, got off to a slower start.
His second half activity helped KU bury OU, though, and Agbaji produced 10 points, 6 boards and 3 assists.
• Christian Braun became the sixth man for this game, with Moss playing more minutes for the Jayhawks lately.
After failing even attempt a 3-pointer in KU’s road wins at TCU and West Virginia, Braun wasn’t so hesitant versus OU. He had been on the floor all of 2 minutes when he buried a 3 from the left wing.
But Braun didn’t try to force himself into a larger role as a result. The freshman guard mostly defended and fit in, giving KU 3 points.
• David McCormack had some moments for KU when it was his turn to man the paint. The best of those was an impressive post-up and finish inside, proving that he can do Azubuike-type things for the offense when the senior sits.
McCormack finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds.
There’s no question that Kansas coach Bill Self is happy with the recent play of his team’s 3-point specialist, Isaiah Moss.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Self said Friday, when asked about the surging senior marksman, who helped No. 3 Kansas stay unbeaten in Big 12 road games, with a 58-49 win at No. 14 West Virginia.
Self didn’t share his specific feelings about the recent 3-point accuracy — or lack thereof — from the rest of the Jayhawks. But KU’s coach did mention his team made exactly four 3-pointers in each of its two road wins this past week.
“He’s made six of them,” Self pointed out of Moss, a 38.8% career 3-point shooter over the course of three seasons at Iowa and 23 games at KU.
The past couple of games in particular, Moss has proven to be the exact version of himself KU needs offensively — 3-for-8 from long range at TCU and 3-for-5 at WVU.
He could clearly use some help. While Moss was fulfilling his role in two impressive, defense-first road victories for the Jayhawks, the rest of the team combined to shoot 2-for-14 in the past week.
In the two games prior to those, KU went 4-for-13 against Texas Tech and 2-for-12 versus Texas. No single Jayhawk made more than one 3-pointer in either of those home wins.
“It’s ridiculously poor how we’ve shot the ball beyond the arc,” Self remarked. “But also you can look at it like thank goodness we’ve got (Moss).”
With the end of the regular season now just three weeks away, KU is shooting 34.2% on 3-pointers as a team this year (131st nationally as of Friday). However, the Jayhawks are making only 31.9% of their 3-pointers in Big 12 play, placing them fifth in the conference entering this weekend’s slate of games.
KU’s lack of consistent shooting has been an ongoing discussion this season, and when those conversations are happening Moss isn’t the only player considered a reliable option. Freshman Christian Braun needs to be a good shooter for the Jayhawks, too, as Self doesn’t mind bringing up.
If Braun’s more assertive on catch-and-shoot chances, following Moss’s lead, it will bolster KU’s scoring and offensive spacing.
Braun didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in KU’s two wins at TCU and WVU, while playing a combined 36 minutes. He also went 0-for-2 against Texas and last connected on a 3-pointer during a game on Feb. 1, going 1-for-2 versus Texas Tech.
Yet Braun is responsible for some of KU’s most eye-popping 3-point displays this season, going 6-for-10 versus Kansas State and 4-for-8 at Oklahoma State.
So far during his freshman year, Braun can boast 41.8% 3-point accuracy. In Big 12 games, no Jayhawk has been as on the mark from long range as Braun, who is 14-for-29 (48.3%).
The Jayhawks need Moss and Braun firing because they’re easily the best shooters in the rotation.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson hasn’t hit more than one 3-pointer in a game since KU played at Iowa State on Jan. 8. WVU strategically left him open earlier this week, as Dotson went 1-for-5 while playing through some right knee soreness that had kept him out of practices the previous few days, Self shared.
In the nine games Dotson has played since going 2-for-5 on 3-pointers at ISU, he has shot 7-for-34 (20.6%) from deep. And he’s just a 27.7% 3-point shooter on the season.
Junior guard Marcus Garrett will take 3-pointers when the defense leaves him wide open and the shot makes sense in the moment. But he hasn’t buried a 3 since KU’s Jan. 14 win at Oklahoma. Garrett didn’t put up a single 3-pointer in four outings of that eight-game stretch, during which he was 0-for-7.
A 26.4% career 3-point shooter, Garrett has connected on 28.6% of his 35 tries during his junior season. He’s just 3-for-15 (20%) in Big 12 games this year.
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji gets hot from behind the arc occasionally. But since a 3-for-7 afternoon in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Tennessee on Jan. 25, Agbaji has gone 4-for-18 (22.2%) over his most recent five games.
Agbaji enters Saturday’s rematch with OU shooting 34.6% from downtown as a sophomore, but that number dips to 25.6% in KU’s 11 Big 12 games to date.
Moss is KU’s green-light shooter, and Self thinks the graduate transfer understands that. But the Jayhawks will need Braun to adopt a little bit of that same mentality and wait for Dotson and Agbaji to shoot their way out of their slumps before the offense is able to peak.
KU has gotten away with being a mediocre to poor 3-point shooting team this season because the Jayhawks are playing elite defense (No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). But if they’re somehow able to pair that defense with some consistency from outside, they would become a dominant team.
The key will be confident shooting from Moss and Braun, paired with Dotson (a good free-throw shooter, at 80.6% this season) and Agbaji improving for the stretch run.
His name isn’t the first, second or even third to come up in most conversations about the No. 3-ranked Kansas basketball team.
Nevertheless, the underappreciated Ochai Agbaji has proven instrumental for the Jayhawks in their pursuit of No. 1 Baylor.
So gifted athletically, the sophomore guard seems to leave some wanting more. And now. More 3-pointers. More drives. More points. KU does have to grind through so many games, after all.
Just keep in mind Agbaji is KU’s third-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) on a roster with two potential All-Americans in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike providing most of the scoring. Agbaji isn’t going to transform into a go-to bucket-getter who suddenly puts up 15 to 20 points a game this season. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not going to get all of your guards pouring in points night in and night out — not in college basketball.
Every once in a while, Agbaji will catch fire from 3-point range and provide KU with a boost that makes winning go more smoothly for this defense-first KU roster.
But his 34.6% 3-point shooting is not something that should be counted on. Nor should anyone hold it against Agbaji when he’s blending in instead of firing at will.
The sophomore guard has only played in 46 career games, remember, because his would-be redshirt season a year ago disappeared once KU lost Azubuike due to injury. Agbaji won’t be two full seasons into his college career until January of 2021.
Give the still-young player some time to grow and he’ll be soaring over those high expectations some have for him eventually.
Agbaji obviously didn’t dominate offensively at West Virginia, where KU (21-3 overall, 10-1 Big 12) extended its current win streak to nine games and improved to a perfect 6-0 in Big 12 road contests. But he sure wasn’t passive, either. He blew through lanes to the basket when given the chance by the mostly staunch Mountaineers defense.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas City, Mo., attacked the rim, creating a layup for himself a few minutes in, as KU set a promising tone offensively, with a variety of Jayhawks piling up points in the paint. Later in the first half, he took a steal the other direction for a fast-break layup.
When his 3-pointers weren’t dropping, he kept looking for other avenues, and opened up KU’s second half with another transition lay-in. He’d pull off a third fast-break hoop before long on a 4-for-7 night that produced 9 points. And over the course of the game he drew three fouls from WVU defenders.
The more Agbaji plays at KU, the better he’ll become at making the most of his athleticism, an area where he often has the advantage over the man across from him.
Right now there are times when he’ll go stretches without showing up in any statistical column. But there’s something about his presence — and how he fits with Azubuike, Dotson and Marcus Garrett — that helps this team meet its defensive potential. And that’s the end of the court where the Jayhawks are winning these games.
Agbaji rarely left the court at WVU, sitting for all of 53 seconds. Coincidence or not, when he took a breather, WVU rattled off 5 quick points. He didn’t sit at all in the second half. And, of course, Agbaji was a key part of the most effective KU lineup at WVU. Azubuike, Dotson, Garrett, Agbaji and Isaiah Moss played 16:12 together, and those five outscored the Mountaineers, 29-10.
His defense, effort and attitude keep him on the court. If he had any major failings as a player, he wouldn't be playing 33.9 minutes a game.
In a perfect world, yes, KU would take an offensive late-season metamorphosis from its starting sophomore shooting guard. But this is reality. For now, just give Agbaji some room to breathe and keep developing.
The scoring spike will come, probably when KU really needs that from him next season. Trying to force the issue with Agbaji at this point seems unwise anyway, with this team’s impressive chemistry.
KU plays through Azubuike in the half court whenever it can, capitalizes on transition opportunities with Dotson pushing the tempo or Garrett creating takeaways if possible, and otherwise gets most of its offense from Dotson’s and Garrett’s drives to score or pass. It’s not a formula that overwhelms opponents, but it’s working.
The Jayhawks could reach another level this season with some added scoring punch. But no one Jayhawk is going to change that on his own. KU will be better off if the seven regulars in Bill Self’s rotation do that collectively.
Agbaji could provide a scoring uptick by staying assertive. And so could the rest of his teammates.
Morgantown, W.Va. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 58-49 win over West Virginia on Wednesday at WVU Coliseum.
• Even though WVU started two bigs, KU made point to get to the rim early versus the Mountaineers. The Jayhawks scored their first 12 points off layups and a dunk, with all but two of their first 10 shot attempts coming from point-blank range.
However, in the following 12-plus minutes leading up to halftime, KU only scored 6 more points in the paint. The Jayhawks shot 41.7% from the floor in the first 20 minutes, while turning it over 8 times.
• Those giveaways proved pivotal for WVU, too, as the Mountaineers scored 13 points off turnovers, setting them up for a 30-24 lead at the break
• No, it wasn’t pretty. But KU won a game that felt like a possible loss by shooting 48% in the second half. The Jayhawks left with the victory in points in the paint, no coincidence, 32-24.
• KU shot 44% in the win and only turned it over 13 times — not bad versus WVU.
• Although the Jayhawks were attacking the paint on offense from the get-go, they weren’t having much success stopping WVU from doing the same. The Mountaineers scored 12 of their first 15 points in the paint, with six layups or dunks of their own.
• WVU secured 8 offensive boards, leading to 8 second-chance points in the first half.
• KU held WVU to 35.5% shooting in the opening half, and WVU went 3-for-9 from 3-point distance.
• The Mountaineers only hit 32% of their shots and went 4-for-17 on 3-pointers. Plus, they turned it over 19 times in the home loss.
• Not one Jayhawk — not even the massive Udoka Azubuike — stood out for more than a sporadic play here or there in the first half.
Two first-half fouls kept KU’s senior center on the bench for 10 minutes, and Azubuike only had 2 points and 3 boards at halftime.
He looked much more like himself in the second half, though, playing a pivotal role in the road win. Azubuike gave KU 6 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks but was also responsible for negating the impact of Oscar Tshiebwe.
• Ochai Agbaji actually led KU in scoring in the first half, with all of 5 points in his 19 minutes of action.
Agbaji would finish with 9 points and his defense and athleticism kept him on the floor and making an impact.
• Devon Dotson found WVU leaving him open for 3-pointers throughout the first half, but went 0-for-3 on his long-range attempts and he turned it over a couple of times.
The sophomore’s left corner 3-pointer felt like a minor miracle past the midway mark of the second half with as poorly as KU was shooting it. A few minutes later the heady point guard made an incredible defensive play, swiping the ball from Miles McBride and then knocking it off of his foe out of bounds, giving KU possession in a tight game, with 7:52 to play.
Dotson shot 4-for-13, and finished with 15 points, 2 assists and 4 rebounds in 38 minutes.
• Marcus Garrett struggled with turnovers against the ever-gritty Mountaineers, committing 6.
But the Jayhawks were dead in the water before he spent much of crunch time just taking the ball away from WVU.
Garrett produced 5 steals in the win, to supplement his 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
• KU needed David McCormack as early as the first half, with Self a couple of times sitting Azubuike due to fouls and for another stretch playing the two bigs together.
In his 10 first-half minutes, McCormack provided 4 points, 1 rebound and one emphatic block, but the Jayhawks weren’t nearly as effective with him in the lineup as they were with Azubuike.
On a related note, McCormack didn’t play in the second half.
• Senior Isaiah Moss gave KU its only 3-pointer of the first half.
His second came during a crucial stretch of the second half, with KU chipping away at WVU’s lead.
Later, Moss would score some of the game’s most influential points, sinking two free throws after drawing a foul in transition — he pulled that off twice — and burying his third 3-pointer. A personal 7-1 run for Moss had KU up 54-49 at the final media break of the second half.
Moss finished with 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Kansas guard Marcus Garrett is known neither as a shooter nor a scorer.
Still, when the Jayhawks’ indispensable veteran didn’t put a single point on the board in their win at TCU this past weekend, it was out of character.
Garret’s averaging 9.2 points per game during his junior season on 7.3 field goal attempts, converting 46.2% of his tries. But against the Horned Frogs, the Dallas native only put up four shots in his close to 35 minutes on the court.
Of course, Garrett still contributed statistically, with three rebounds, four assists and three steals. Plus, he’s the type of player who won’t allow himself to step foot on the floor without playing the type of staunch defense that makes opponents pray he’ll be guarding one of their teammates.
And that’s why Garrett remained one of the most important players on the court, even while going scoreless for the first time since KU lost to Villanova at the 2018 Final Four, when he was a freshman.
Bill Self called Garrett’s performance in a 60-46 road victory as average a game as the starting guard has had in a while, offensively.
“But he was still terrific defensively,” Self emphasized. “I mean, you can say what you want to and you can look at numbers, but numbers never tell the story. And after watching the tape he was still pretty good, even though I didn't think it was his best at the offensive end.”
Garrett’s real impact was more discernible in his plus/minus numbers from KU’s most recent road win. The Jayhawks outscored TCU, 52-38, when Garrett was on the court, while they were an even 8-8 with the Frogs in the five-plus minutes Garrett spent on the bench. The junior guard’s plus-14 led the team, even as standouts Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson filled up other columns in the box score.
While Garrett’s ability to attack off the dribble and get to the rim has proven to be a real strength for the No. 3 Jayhawks (20-3 overall, 9-1 Big 12) this season, TCU’s guards, unlike most teams, did a nice job of taking those opportunities away from Garrett, who ended up going 0-for-4, all on shots taken from 15 feet and in.
But Garrett is the rarest of basketball players, who doesn’t actually care that much about his individual scoring totals. And in that way, Garrett reminds Self of a former KU great.
Self shared this story with his Jayhawks about Mario Chalmers, who is famous for his clutch 3-pointer in the 2008 national championship game, but also loved racking up steals and blending in.
“We’re beating somebody here in our league bad, eight minutes left in the game. And I run a play for Mario, and I said, ‘I want you to shoot it,’” Self recalled.
Chalmers replied, “Why?”
Self told the guard he hadn’t attempted a shot. But Chalmers countered, “‘I don’t need to take a shot. I don’t need to score.”
Which brought Self to his point: “I think Marcus has that same attitude, as well.”
Azubuike and Dotson are the Jayhawks who will most often be mentioned as candidates for Big 12 and national accolades this season, but Garrett is just as essential to KU’s success.
Freshman guard Christian Braun said Garrett always brings much more to the lineup than his scoring ability, and Braun saw the upperclassman impact KU’s win at TCU in a variety of other ways.
“You know, at the end of the game, he got a good steal, just kind of took the ball from the guy,” Braun began, referencing a takeaway by Garrett that allowed him to feed Dotson for a transition layup, the first play of what became a 12-0 run that all but wrapped up the win.
“That's what he does is affect the game on the other end. And you know you're going to get that from him every game. So you know he's always going to have steals and be in the right place,” Braun continued.
“He kind of takes their best player away almost every game, too. And even if, like I think (Desmond) Bane ended up with 20 (points), it's always a tough 20,” Braun said of Bane’s 8-for-19 day versus KU. “They don't always get their normal stats or it's not as efficient, and that's because of Marcus most of the time. So like I said, it doesn't really matter what he does on the offensive end, because you know what he's going to do on the defensive end.”