Nearly four years ago, at the age of 16, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a life-altering decision to make.
Already an accomplished youth basketball player within Ukraine’s national team program, as well as the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, it was time for Mykhailiuk to pick:
• Stick with the established protocol for promising young European talents, and sign to play professionally.
• Or head to the U.S. and take a crack at college basketball.
Upon seriously contemplating his options, it came down to relocating to Spain to join Real Madrid or migrating even farther west to play at the University of Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, now known as “Svi” by anybody associated with the KU basketball program, of course, opted for a decision that may have seemed odd to his contemporaries at the time.
“Most of them try to stay there and make money,” he related this past week, during the last days of his four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Reflecting on his unique basketball path now, is the 6-foot-8 guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine, glad he chose Lawrence, Kansas, and college over Madrid, Spain, and a contract?
“Yeah, for sure,” Mykhailiuk replied, without hesitation. “I met a lot of new people. I’ll be able to get a degree from Kansas and just be a part of a program like Kansas and make it to the Final Four.”
KU and 15th-year head coach Bill Self couldn’t have reached college basketball’s ultimate weekend for the first time since 2012 without Mykhailiuk. The senior guard’s 236th 3-pointer as a Jayhawk tied an Elite Eight matchup against Duke with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, allowing Kansas to reach overtime and eventually emerge victorious.
Further memorable baskets wouldn’t follow in a national semifinal loss to Villanova, in San Antonio. Mykhailiuk completed his KU journey with 10 points and three assists, in defeat.
He shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior and leaves the program with the current record for 3-point makes in a season (115). The final “Svi for 3,” in his 136th game and 70th start, moved him to fourth place all-time at KU for 3-pointers in a career, with 237.
Even more important to Mykhailiuk, he can now proceed to the professional ranks confident his experience at Kansas shaped him into a better player.
“Being here four years, being coached by Coach Self, and he’s a hall of famer,” Mykhailiuk said, “so I think if I hadn’t got here I wouldn’t have played for a hall of famer.”
Self thought so highly of his Ukrainian recruit that he even tried the freshman out as a starter at the age of 17. Although that move didn’t stick past a six-game stretch of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule, Mykhailiuk said his relationship with Self only improved from that point. By his sophomore and junior years, Mykhailiuk noticed Self pulling him aside during practices for more and more conversations.
“If I’m open, he always wants me shooting the ball, no matter what,” Mykhailiuk shared of how Self boosted his confidence. “He’s always telling me, ‘Just be a player.’”
The shooting, passing, rebounding and defensive reps could have come anywhere. Mykhailiuk feels grateful his took place at Kansas these past four years, because he learned more about how to be an impactful player as a result.
“It’s all about the mental part. It’s not about physicality and stuff,” he said of some of his biggest lessons. “It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you’re ready.”
After testing the NBA’s draft waters a year ago, Mykhailiuk determined he wasn’t yet prepared to leave college basketball behind. Attending the league’s combine and receiving feedback from scouts, coaches and general managers proved beneficial in his development, too.
“I think it just helped me mentally, knowing I can play against other people. And it helped me know what I’ve got to do to go to the next level and be a better player,” he said.
Mykhailiuk took all the information from Self and NBA decision-makers and turned it into a second-team All-Big 12 season. He averaged career-highs with 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 3-point makes per game.
“Just be more aggressive,” Mykhailiuk said of the most significant piece of advice he carried with him into his final season, “and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Still just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in June), Mykhailiuk projects as a mid-second-round pick in the 2018 draft, four years after he could have become a young pro in Europe. Other than Ukrainian teammate Ilya Tyrtyshnik, who played at Ole Miss this past season, most of his peers chose a more typical basketball path.
What made Mykhailiuk different?
“That’s just me,” he said. “Every person’s different. I just wanted to play NCAA.”
Basketball lifer Larry Brown coached the Denver Nuggets, UCLA Bruins, New Jersey Nets, Kansas Jayhawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats and SMU Mustangs during the course of the past 40-plus years, after getting his start in the profession with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
Two years as a retiree hasn’t kept the former coaching nomad from spending time around the game, though. Brown arrived in San Antonio this past week with the Kansas contingent at the Final Four, three decades removed from winning it all with the Jayhawks.
Now that leading a team is no longer his job, Brown explained what he misses about his former life.
“I don’t like games. I like being around the coaches and teaching the kids,” he told a group of reporters on the eve of the national semifinals. “And I get a little frustrated, because I don’t think a lot of kids are getting taught. They’re leaving too early. They’re thinking they’re in the NBA before they play a college game. A lot of them think they’re failures if they don’t make it, and that troubles me.”
The compositions of the teams that advanced out of their regionals and made it to the Alamodome, though, offered Brown encouragement on that front. Although one-and-done talents such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony have helped lead their teams to six NCAA Tournament wins and a national title in the past, this March’s Final Four field lacked one such freshman star.
Seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, as well as junior Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman, in his third season with a college program, were instrumental in getting KU to San Antonio. The same was true of Loyola seniors Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram, and Aundre Jackson, plus junior Clayton Custer. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and juniors Moe Wagner and Charles Matthews propelled Michigan to the Final Four, as did Villanova juniors Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
“It seems to me the longer they stay, the better they are and the more chance they’ll have to graduate and make something of their lives,” Brown said, while praising KU’s Bill Self, Loyola’s Porter Moser, Michigan’s John Beilein and Villanova’s Jay Wright for being coaches who go about their business “the right way.”
From Brown’s perspective, college basketball provides players with “an unbelievable opportunity” to receive an education and “make their lives better,” while crafting their skills in the hope of extending their basketball experience to the professional ranks.
However, Brown isn’t against allowing high school players to skip college completely and enter the NBA Draft — a system the league went away from in 2006, leading to college basketball’s current era of one-and-dones.
“Golfer, tennis player, musician, you can come out if you have a gift,” Brown offered, in regards to other young adults turning their skills into jobs without ever attending a university.
Here’s the catch. Brown would be in favor of keeping those players who go to college with a program for multiple years, instead of giving them the option to declare for the draft after as little as one year of education.
“If they go to school, I’d like to see them stay as long as possible,” he said.
A similar structure is in place for the MLB draft. A player can declare out of high school. But once a baseball player joins a college program, he can’t turn pro until completing his third year. In the NFL, a player has to be three years removed form high school graduation to turn pro.
“To me the longer you stay, the better your life’s gonna be, the better you’re gonna impact others,” Brown said. “And then when you do get to the NBA the better prepared you’re gonna be.”
The longtime coach, who has observed from both sides of the spectrum, called college basketball “the greatest minor-league system in the world.” Brown conjectured struggling young NBA players who leave college after one year weren’t ready to become professionals when they declared.
“And a lot of them, they have developmental coaches,” Brown said. “We need teachers.”
The man who owns both an NCAA and NBA championship ring said this year’s Final Four featured four “great teachers.”
“But,” he added, wearing a grin, “I’m like a voice in the wind.”
San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.
The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.
Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.
Not much offensive flow
For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.
Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.
The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.
Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.
In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.
His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.
The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.
Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.
In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.
Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.
Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.
Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.
No stopping Paschall
The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.
Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.
When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.
The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.
A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).
The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.
The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.
Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).
Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.
Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.
Some promise for De Sousa’s future
Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.
One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.
Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.
Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.
In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.
De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.
By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.
De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.
When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.
San Antonio — If Villanova were slated to play any other team in the country on Saturday at the Final Four, Fred Quartlebaum would feel like one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans.
NCAA Tournament assignments and results from the past four rounds didn’t allow the Kansas basketball program’s director of student-athlete development to become an emotionally invested spectator of another elite team, though.
Quartlebaum, per usual, will be squarely in the Jayhawks’ corner for the national semifinal. The strange twist for the high-energy, always-smiling assistant will be actively — at least for a couple of hours — rooting against someone close to him.
Now in his fifth season on Bill Self’s staff at KU, Quartlebaum first met Villanova junior Eric Paschall when the starting forward was a middle-schooler.
“He is a tremendous kid, tremendous competitor,” the upbeat KU staffer known as “Coach Q,” shared at The Alamodome on Friday.
For a short time in his coaching profession, Quartlebaum didn’t work at the college level. He was involved with a leadership and mentoring program for students in the Westchester, N.Y., area when he first met Paschall.
A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., native, just like KU’s assistant, a young Paschall attended a Quartlebaum camp upon recommendation.
“We’ve just always kept a close relationship since then,” Paschall revealed.
A few years later, the camper became a counselor for “Q.” By the time he graduated from high school, Paschall was off to start his college career at Fordham, the same program where Quartlebaum played from 1985 to 1989.
“I had an opportunity to see him grow up, and to see what type of young man he’s become and, gosh, he’s turned out to be a terrific basketball player, which no one was surprised about that,” Quartlebaum added of Paschall, now in his second season with the Wildcats and averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds after transferring from Fordham.
The two reunited on Thursday at the Final Four Fan Fest. Quartlebaum greeted his Saturday foe with a “big hug” to let Paschall know how proud he is of what he has accomplished.
“I’m gonna love you today, but come Saturday we’re gonna go head-to-head,” the coach told his former pupil. “We both just laughed.”
The reunion near San Antonio’s River Walk for the duo who grew up in a N.Y. village along the Hudson River just so happened to come at college basketball’s biggest weekend.
“We knew it was a possibility,” Paschall said of he and Quartlebaum one day finding themselves as opponents, “just knowing that I was going to Villanova and he was at Kansas. But we never really talked about it. We always just have real conversations — like how we’re doing. I always ask about his two kids, Trey and Mayson. I remember coaching them in camp, so I always keep up with them.”
It’s been easy for Quartlebaum to track Paschall’s career just through social media, with so many in the Westchester area excitedly sharing the hometown hero’s highlights. The KU assistant has consumed even more footage during the past several days of preparation, too, since sending Paschall and his father, Juan, congratulatory texts following Villanova’s victory over Texas Tech.
“The cool thing about Eric is he’s extremely humble off the court, but such a fierce warrior, competitor that’s out there,” Quartlebaum said, describing his one-time protege as a versatile and integral part of the Villanova lineup. “He can shoot the ball, he can finish at the rim. He had an unbelievable dunk (in the Sweet 16, against West Virginia big Sagaba) Konate. So he can do a lot.”
Paschall said he’s happy for Quartlebaum’s success.
“That’s my guy. Always had love for him. He’s a great dude,” the younger Dobbs Ferry representative at the Final Four said of the village’s elder statesman. “He’s always had my back and he always keeps in contact.”
Only one of the two from the small river village in New York will move on to Monday’s national championship game. It’s safe to say each will be rooting for the other from here on out — barring a March Madness rematch in 2019, that is.
“Eric has been a part of my basketball experience for quite a bit,” Quartlebaum said, “so what an honor to be here with him and celebrate this atmosphere at the Final Four.”
San Antonio — When No. 1 and No. 2 seeds began dropping out of the South and West regionals before the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it became clear The Madness was intent on devouring the left side of the bracket.
So by the time a team emerged from each region as a Final Four participant, one national semifinal quickly became characterized as the undercard.
With the first national semifinal Saturday night at The Alamodome placing No. 3 seed Michigan against March darling and No. 11 seed Loyola (5:09 p.m., TBS), some have gone as far as to label the matchup on the opposite side of the bracket between No. 1 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas as the de facto national championship game.
In his 17th season at Villanova, head coach Jay Wright trusts his players won’t buy into that line of thinking. Whichever team gets out of KU-Villanova alive will have to win one more time to secure the national title.
“The good thing is I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament,” Wright said earlier this week, “so I don't think they would even think that this is the national championship game. Our guys wouldn't think that way.”
The NCAA could avoid having one semifinal appear more stacked than another by changing its Final Four format and re-seeding the teams for the season’s ultimate weekend. This year, for example, Villanova, as the top remaining No. 1 seed, would take on No. 11 Loyola in one game, while No. 1 KU and No. 3 Michigan would play in the other.
Kansas coach Bill Self, asked for his thoughts on the re-seeding debate, replied: “Well, since they are not going to, I'm going to say: No, I love it exactly the way it is.”
The coach then conceded it would be “great” to re-seed for the national semifinals.
“I think whoever is saying that, obviously is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves,” Self said of KU and Villanova being a two-days early title game. “It looks like it's maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it's one versus one, but trust me, the other game is just as marquee as this one.”
Of course, nationally renowned coaches ultimately don’t care how games are being categorized or what modifications talking heads are debating. Wright mostly is concerned with devising a game plan that will push Villanova (34-4) past Kansas (31-7) and into the actual national championship game.
“They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men,” Wright said. “And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had.”
Wright said he and his staff, through the years, have always watched Self’s teams to pick up different ideas on how to best use their big men.
“And now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing,” Wright said. “So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”
San Antonio — One of the breakout stars of March Madness, Malik Newman picked up his second Most Outstanding Player award of the postseason in the aftermath of an Elite Eight victory over Duke.
After emerging as the top performer of the Big 12 tournament a few weeks earlier, the Kansas sophomore proved his Sprint Center shows were no fluke once the Jayhawks began their Final Four run.
Through four KU victories in the NCAA Tournament, Newman leads the team with 21.8 points per game and 13-for-29 shooting (44.8%) from 3-point range.
Earlier this week, Newman joined the March Madness 365 podcast, with Andy Katz, to discuss his dazzling March and how his KU coaches and teammates helped him took off.
“My confidence is at an all-time high right now. I probably feel as confident as I’ve ever felt,” Newman told Katz. “I’m having fun with the group of guys that I’m with and we’re just enjoying the moment.”
A McDonald’s All-American in high school and considered one of the top talents in the class of 2015, Newman began his college career at Mississippi State, where he experienced a 14-17 freshman season before taking a crack at the NBA combine while maintaining his amateur status. Eventually, he decided to transfer to Kansas.
Needless to say, the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., had never experienced anything quite like KU’s overtime win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Newman, of course, scored all 13 of KU’s points in OT, en route to a career-high 32. The fact that it came in a “historical matchup” between blue blood programs, he added, made it all the more satisfying.
“It’s got to be at the top of the list. Most definitely at the top of the list,” Newman replied, when asked where that game ranks for him. “As a kid, this is what you dream about. The AAU circuits and all the AAU games that you play, it will never amount to playing in the Elite Eight game and advancing to the Final Four.”
Who knows what Newman would be doing now if he had just turned pro after leaving Mississippi State two years ago. He said he had to “get healthy” and “learn the game some more,” instead of trying to work his way into the NBA while playing in less glamorous leagues. Newman is glad he ended up with Bill Self and his coaching staff at Kansas.
“I think they did a great job of molding me into what I am right now, and I just think those guys did a great job of pushing me every day,” Newman said.
Now Newman is preparing for a Final Four semifinal against Villanova as a far better player than he was two years ago. Sitting out a full season as a transfer, it turned out, had its benefits, as he got to watch and practice against Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham.
“Those guys are skilled players, so I was able to steal some things from them,” Newman said. “And Coach Self, he just did a great job of instilling the Kansas tradition in me. I think it just made me better overall.”
The Kansas basketball season isn’t over yet.
The Jayhawks advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest region and on to San Antonio by knocking off Duke, in overtime, 85-81, Sunday night.
“Mr. March,” also known as Malik Newman, had plenty to do with KU’s 31st and most memorable victory of the year so far, scoring all 13 of his team’s points in OT.
But the efforts of Newman’s teammates in various other categories proved just as valuable. Here are five statistics that made the Jayhawks’ 15th Final Four appearance, and first since 2012, possible.
Given KU’s one-big, four-guard lineup and the presence of two potential NBA lottery picks in Duke’s starting frontcourt, it seemed a long night of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. snagging Blue Devils misses could be in the cards for Kansas.
However, Duke only secured 10 offensive rebounds off 40 missed field goals, finishing with just 11 second-chance points.
KU had come up short in second-chance points in four of its first six postseason victories before outscoring Duke, 15-11, with the help of 17 offensive boards.
Starting center Udoka Azubuike enhanced those numbers with 5 offensive rebounds — his second-best total this season.
Guards Svi Mykhailiuk (3 offensive rebounds), Devonte’ Graham (2), Newman (2) and Marcus Garrett (2) all chipped in when they could, as well.
Whether it was KU locking in, Duke’s legs wearing down or some combination of the two, the Jayhawks spent the final minutes of regulation making stops.
After Grayson Allen fed Wendell Carter Jr. for a layup with 4:25 to go in the second half, KU held Duke without a basket and forced a turnover in the final four minutes, setting up overtime.
Although Allen made two free throws at the 1:59 and 1:25 marks, Kansas barely out-scored Duke, 5-4, during the closing minutes of the second half.
Lagerald Vick blocked Carter with 3:51 on the clock. Azubuike rebounded a missed 3 by Allen with 3:23 left. Trevon Duval turned the ball over at the 2:40 mark. Silvio De Sousa rebounded a Carter misfire with 36 seconds to go in regulation. And KU’s March breakout star, Newman, successfully defended a potential Allen game-winner with 0:03 showing on the clock.
KU knew headed into the Elite Eight showdown that Allen (100 of 267 on 3-pointers, 37.5%) and Gary Trent Jr. (95 of 231, 41.1%) were Duke’s best long-range shooters.
The Jayhawks’ perimeter defenders made sure neither Allen (2 of 9 on 3’s versus KU) or Trent (2 of 10) got hot or found a rhythm.
With the Devils’ marksmen combining to hit just 21% of their 3-pointers, Duke only made 7 of 29 (24%) as a team — the lowest percentage by a KU opponent in the NCAA Tournament this March.
A season-long ally for the Jayhawks, the 3-point line once again facilitated a Kansas victory.
It wasn’t KU’s 36% success from beyond the arc that made the difference. It was that 39 points (nearly half of the victor’s 85) came from that source.
Kansas hit 13 of 36 from deep between its four starting guards, giving the team 13 or more 3-pointers for the eighth time this season and 10 or more for the 19th occasion in 38 outings.
The Jayhawks out-scored Duke by 18 points from outside the arc, and improved to 17-2 when connecting on at least 10 3-pointers.
Newman went 5 for 12. Mykhailiuk sent the game to OT with a 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds of regulation and made 3 of 9. Graham hit 3 of 8. Vick made at least two from deep for the fifth straight game, connecting on 2 of 7.
26 minutes from De Sousa
Where would the Jayhawkw be without freshman big man De Sousa right now? Maybe done for the season, instead of packing up for a trip to San Antonio.
With starting center Azubuike battling foul trouble all night — he picked up his fifth and a disqualification with 1:59 to play in the second half — KU needed every minute, rebound, hustle play and defensive stop De Sousa could muster. http://www2.kusports.com/news/2018/ma...
A 6-foot-9 freshman from Angola, De Sousa tied a career high with 26 minutes — the same time he spent on the court in the Big 12 title game, when Azubuike was out with an injury.
The backup big, whom Bill Self barely trusted to keep on the floor in January and February, finished with 4 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
After Azubuike fouled out during crunch time, with the season on the line, De Sousa finished off three separate KU stops with a defensive rebound.
His first-half dunk and second-half layup helped KU’s bench out-score the Duke subs, 8-6.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Duke
- Mr. March: Malik Newman carries Jayhawks past Duke, into Final Four
- Tom Keegan: Svi for 3 and great ‘D’ in KU’s Elite Eight victory
- Notebook: Jayhawks outrebound Duke; Newman named regional’s Most Outstanding Player
- Jayhawks survive encounter with Duke’s monster frontcourt to reach Final Four
- Silvio De Sousa’s ‘terrific,’ bloody performance saves KU in Elite Eight
- Jayhawk fans release Elite Eight tension with party on Massachusetts Street
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman carries Kansas into Final Four with 32 points, tops ratings
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Jayhawks topple Duke in OT to reach Final Four
Kansas senior forward Jamari Traylor knows what a Final Four team looks like. He saw one up close his first year in Lawrence.
Traylor, a 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago, couldn’t play for the Jayhawks during the 2011-12 season. Like his classmate Ben McLemore at the time, Traylor entered KU’s basketball program as an NCAA partial qualifier. He could practice with the Jayhawks once the fall semester ended, but wasn’t allowed to suit up for games or travel with the team.
Four years later, Traylor and his current Kansas teammates want to become the first group of Jayhawks to reach college basketball’s hallowed stage since Traylor watched Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and company get all the way to the 2012 national title game.
Traylor spent enough time around that national runner-up team to feel like a small part of its success. He witnessed how the team functioned and the kinds of intangibles that made it special.
So are there any similarities he sees between the 2015-16 Jayhawks and that Final Four team that finished 32-7?
“That team was a group of guys that just wanted to win,” Traylor recalled, “and they would do anything to go out there and compete. And defensively, I feel like, was the reason that team got so far, because at the end of the game when things would get close they hunkered down, they locked up. And I think that’s what we want to do this year.”
That particular Kansas team’s defense could prove difficult to replicate. In 2011-12, the Jayhawks held opponents to 61.7 points and 38% shooting. KU blocked 5.7 shots a game and averaged 7.3 steals. Opponents only made 39.8% of their 2-point field-goal attempts and shot 34% from 3-point range.
It’s obviously very early in the season, and Kansas (6-1) has yet to play with its full roster, due to the Cheick Diallo eligibility fiasco created by the NCAA and Brannen Greene now serving a suspension. But here is what KU’s numbers look like thus far. Kansas (playing at a faster pace than the ’11-12 team) is giving up 69.9 points, allowing opponents to make 40.9% of their shots and averaging 4.0 blocks and 7.7 steals. KU’s seven opponent have connected on 47.9% of their 2-point field goals, but have made just 29.3% from behind the 3-point arc.
Traylor said the hunger, focus and mental toughness of the 2012 Jayhawks made them a strong defensive unit.
“I feel like this team could be just as good,” he added.
According to Traylor, there aren’t any obvious player comparisons to make between this year’s group and that Final Four roster.
“I feel like it’s a really different team. Guys are a lot different,” Traylor explained. “Frank (Mason III) and Tyshawn play different. We don’t have anybody like T-Rob, nobody like Jeff. We’re a completely different team, but we’re just as good. So we can go out there and do just as good.”
The Jayhawks, ranked No. 2 in the nation this week, entered the season projected as a Final Four and national title contender, according to a number of websites and publications.
Traylor sees some important characteristics that could help the Jayhawks make a long NCAA Tournament run come March — something the Jayhawks haven’t been able to accomplish the past two seasons, when their season ended before the Sweet 16, in both 2014 and 2015.
“We’re a deep team, top to bottom. We’ve got guys at every position,” Traylor said. “We’ve got seniors and juniors — we’re an old team. And we pretty much know what it takes to get there, and we’ve got a great group of young guys, too, so pretty much we’ve got everything we need. We’ve got all the tools necessary, great coaching.”
Of course, the development of Diallo, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Kayes, Mali, in Africa, might play into KU’s potential — especially on defense — more than any other factor in the months to come. Traylor said Diallo has a unique set of skills that should help the Jayhawks’ already deep front-court rotation as the freshman grows more comfortable.
“He’s just a freak of nature,” Traylor said of Diallo. “He gets up and down the court, he runs like a deer. He’s gonna help us a lot. He can go out there and block shots. He’s young, so he’s got a lot to learn and everything, but his upside is crazy.”
The Jayhawks have plenty of promise this season, too. If they reach their ceiling, Traylor might actually get to play in a Final Four in his final year with Kansas.