Salt Lake City — Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 89-75 loss to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas would need some form of life offensively in the first half to keep Auburn within reach, but didn’t come close to accomplishing that.
The Jayhawks’ season was all but over by halftime, after shooting 8-for-27 in the opening 20 minutes and turning the ball over 8 times. A 1-for-10 half from 3-point range derailed KU’s chances of keeping pace, too, as Auburn built an insurmountable 51-25 lead by intermission.
The offense was more tentative than assertive when KU needed to find a way to step up and match Auburn’s intensity.
While KU shot nearly 60% from the floor in the second half, it barely put a dent in the Tigers’ massive lead.
Auburn wanted to play fast and shoot 3-pointers, and the Jayhawks did nothing to stop the Tigers from doing so.
With Bryce Brown burying 3’s out of the gate, the SEC Tournament champions were the aggressors and KU didn’t come up with anything that would make them feel uncomfortable.
The Tigers sprinted to a 34-8 advantage in fast-break points and shot 52% from the floor to advance to the Sweet 16.
No one in a KU uniform was ready in the first half to counter Auburn’s energy. Even Dedric Lawson, who once again finished with a double-double (25 points, 10 rebounds), went 1-for-7 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
Freshman big David McCormack got off to a promising start, with 5 quick points, as well as 5 rebounds in the first half. But matchups and the game’s tempo dictated that Kansas had to play smaller, with four guards, and McCormack was the odd man out.
McCormack capped his freshman year with 11 points and 6 rebounds, plus a couple of assists.
Devon Dotson (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) tried to give KU some kind of spark early on, but couldn’t get going offensively until the second half.
Some defensive missteps by Quentin Grimes in the game’s opening minutes, as Auburn exploded to a big lead, drew the ire of Bill Self.
And Grimes (15 points, 5-for-11 shooting, 2 assists) got most of his stats in the second half, when Auburn’s ticket to Kansas City was basically already punched.
Ochai Agbaji again failed to get out of his late-season slump, going 1-for-5 from the floor and grabbing 1 rebound.
Marcus Garrett, too ill to join the team for Friday activities at the arena, didn’t appear to be back at full health. In 20 minutes, the sophomore guard provided 7 points and 3 rebounds, but seemed a little less quick.
K.J. Lawson was the only other substitute to score, and he put up his 2 points at the free throw line.
Mitch Lightfoot grabbed 2 rebounds in 10 minutes.
Salt Lake City — Thursday afternoon inside the Kansas locker room, shortly after the Jayhawks opened their path through the NCAA Tournament with a first-round victory over Northeastern, head coach Bill Self had a question for his players.
“Good job. Hey, guys. One down and how many to go?” Self asked.
A mixture of responses followed, with “five” being the overriding reply.
“One,” Self quickly corrected them, as seen in a video posted on KU’s social media accounts. “One down. One to go. Hey, hey. One down and one to go, OK? All right, good job.”
When it comes to March Madness, Self always prompts his teams to look at each stop along the way as its own, four-team, two-game tournament. If the Jayhawks win the first two-game tournament, they get to go somewhere else and try to win another.
Apparently at least a few players who grew up watching The Big Dance and came to KU with dreams of chasing a national championship got caught up in the moment, knowing six wins is what it takes to cut down the nets at the Final Four.
“That tells you the impact I’ve had on their lives, as far as them paying attention,” Self would joke after the fact.
So who was to blame? Who said five?
“I think I said five,” a smiling Dedric Lawson admitted Friday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, ahead of KU’s second-round matchup with Auburn. “I forgot it was a two-game tournament.”
And with that response, Lawson didn’t hesitate to use the conversation as an opportunity to mess with nearby teammate Charlie Moore, teasingly throwing him under the bus.
“It was really Charlie’s fault. Charlie, he play too much. He’s the one that made me say five,” a grinning Lawson continued. “But we all know it’s a two-game tournament, one game at a time and things like that, so we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
Why was Moore at fault? What did he do?
“He play too much, man,” Lawson replied. “I ain’t even gonna say what he did.”
Learning that Lawson had just placed the blame on him, Moore provided his version of the story.
“That was definitely Dedric. I wasn’t gonna say nothing. But Dedric said five. If you’re listening closely to the video you’ll hear Dedric say it,” the smiling Moore insisted.
With Moore and Lawson cracking themselves up with their accusations, Moore’s assertion continued.
“Everybody said one. Dedric yelled five,” Moore argued. “He over-yelled everybody, ’cause he thought he was right. But he really wasn’t.”
Why did Lawson say it was Moore then?
“I was next to him. I don’t know why he said that,” Moore retorted.
As the allegations flew back and forth, the reactions from David McCormack, sitting in the locker stall between Lawson and Moore, indicated he knew something.
Asked for some insight, McCormack provided his opinion.
“I mean, you can never tell with these two. Between them, Marcus (Garrett), all of them, they all like to joke around,” McCormack said. “Maybe Charlie might have tapped Dedric … I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him, honestly. He probably told him the right answer was five and everybody else said one.”
What was McCormack’s response to Self’s question?
“I took the smart route and I didn’t say anything. I just whispered to myself,” the freshman big explained, “and said one after the fact. So right or wrong, I just didn’t get called out.”
Whomever was to blame, McCormack said Lawson was “by far” the loudest to give the incorrect answer. But he wasn’t sure if there were others on Team Five.
“I just know I was standing next to Dedric, so he definitely said five,” McCormack said.
Surely veteran Mitch Lightfoot didn’t fail Self’s postgame locker room test, right?
“I don’t know what I said, to be honest,” Lightfoot claimed. “I’m not gonna self-incriminate, either. The next time he asks, we’ll be locked in on one.”
Of course, in order to do that the Jayhawks will have to get past Auburn on Saturday night.
“We’ve got to lock in for our second game of this one,” Lightfoot said, “and hopefully get to the next one.”
You can’t knock any of KU’s players for having large scale goals this time of year. The vibe the Jayhawks gave off in their locker room was one of confidence. They believe in themselves and their ability to make a deep run.
The incorrect “five” response that popped to the front of some players’ minds allowed them to have some fun along the way, too. But they all understand the crux of Self’s one down, one to go message.
“You can’t win five games if you don’t win one game,” Lightfoot said. “Slight issue.”
Salt Lake City — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 87-53 win over Northeastern on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Though the Jayhawks missed shots in the opening minutes, they were able to get out in front by securing second chances on the glass and getting out in the open floor for transition opportunities.
The Jayhawks’ burst of 7 consecutive fast-break points helped them lead 18-11 a little more than 8 minutes in.
KU’s clear advantage inside assured the No. 4 seed and favorite of easy points much of the first half.
After a low-turnover opening 20 minutes, KU coughed it up three times in the first three minutes of the second, allowing NU to trim KU’s lead to 7 quickly. However, the Jayhawks gave the Huskies a dose of their own medicine after a timeout, as both Quentin Grimes and Dedric Lawson drained a 3-pointer, and Lawson got back to work inside to give KU a 15-point advantage, its largest lead of the game at that point.
The Jayhawks dissected NU’s defense, shooting 56 percent from the field in a win that advanced them to a Saturday matchup with Auburn.
The Huskies’ 3-point attack proved effective right out of the gate in the first-round matchup, with Jordan Roland draining a couple and big man Tomas Murphy another to give the Vegas underdogs the start they wanted and a 3-for-5 mark from deep early.
Bill Self didn’t stick with his starting lineup or two-big look for long, though, and with four guards capable of defending the perimeter on the court, KU did a solid job in the first half of keeping Northeastern from getting hot from long range.
While the Huskies were able to get inside for looks, KU’s bigs did a nice job of staying active and making it less than automatic for NU in the paint, and the CAA postseason champs went 1-for-9 on layups and dunks in the first half.
NU’s season ended as KU limited the would-be Cinderella to 6-for-28 3-point shooting and 28-percent shooting overall.
Other than a defensive misstep here or there in the first half, Dedric Lawson gave KU exactly the type of first half it wanted out of its best player.
Lawson had 16 points and 7 boards by intermission, as well as a block and a steal as KU led 37-25 at the break.
KU’s go-to big entered the second half ready to resume his takeover. And once the Jayhawks got back on track by following his lead, Lawson was able to rest longer than usual for a stretch in the second half, en route to experiencing his first NCAA Tournament win in style, producing 25 points and 11 rebounds.
David McCormack started the game but only logged 11 minutes, many of them with the game basically over. KU played variations of its four-guard lineup through much of what turned into a rout and didn’t need its freshman big man much.
McCormack went scoreless but provided 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
It became evident within a few minutes that NU didn’t have a defensive answer for Devon Dotson, especially in the open floor.
The freshman point guard’s confidence and assertiveness with the ball in his hands allowed KU to avoid any real first-half scare or nerves.
Dotson routinely sped by defenders, both in transition and in the half court. Just the threat of what he could do opened up the floor for his teammates, as well.
Though Quentin Grimes went scoreless in 18 first-half minutes, his defense was usually spot on and he continued to be an important passer offensively. The freshman shooting guard finished 1-for-5 from 3-point range and provided 3 points and 3 assists.
Ochai Agbaji’s best energy plays came when he crashed the offensive glass for tip-ins in the second half as KU was in the process of putting Northeastern away.
While Agbaji started, he played 20 minutes, coming through with 13 points and 5 rebounds.
Marcus Garrett didn’t start, but it only took a couple minutes for Self to turn to his team-first glue guy and sixth man. One of KU’s smarter players on both ends of the court, Garrett gave the Jayhawks their first separation of the afternoon when he scored back-to-back layups, the second of which he created by stealing the ball near midcourt.
While Garrett (8 points, 5 rebounds) was solid it was K.J. Lawson who stole the show off the bench.
K.J.’s first few minutes off the bench weren’t great, but that didn’t discourage him one bit. His assertiveness picked up when NU totally ignored him on a fast break for an easy layup in the first half and that seemed to empower him.
KU needed an offensive boost from someone off the bench and, boy, was K.J. the man for that job. The tough-nosed redshirt sophomore contributed 13 points and 3 rebounds.
KU’s old man, junior big Mitch Lightfoot, gave the victors 5 points and 7 rebounds.
Salt Lake City — On Thursday afternoon at Vivint Smart Home Arena, seven members of the Kansas basketball team’s rotation will experience the NCAA Tournament — and all the nerves and pressure and highs and lows that accompany it — for the first time.
It was two years ago, in Tulsa, Okla., that Mitch Lightfoot found out exactly what that entails.
“It was UC-Davis,” Lightfoot recalled on Wednesday afternoon inside the Jayhawks’ locker room, stretching his 6-foot-8 frame backward and looking up at the ceiling as he focused to access the portion of his memory bank where that information lives.
“My freshman year. I was guarding their best player. I remember it was Christian something? I think,” Lightfoot guessed, taking an unsuccessful stab at the exact name of his defensive assignment two years and 72 career games later.
Lightfoot was less cloudy on other details surrounding what proved to be some unsuccessful initial moments for him against Chima Moneke. (Don’t pretend like you remembered the name of UC-Davis’ best big from 2017, either.)
“And we won, obviously. And he got a dunk. And that’s all I remember, because I was really pissed off, because I gave up a dunk in the NCAA Tournament,” Lightfoot said of his introduction to college basketball’s grand March stage.
Back then, Lightfoot played sparingly as a reserve for a deep KU team seeded No.1 in the Midwest Region. Sure, his breakdown while hedging on a ball screen in his first minute of March Madness action led to a dunk. But it also came in the second half of a game that KU already led by 40.
That group of Jayhawks had senior and National Player of the Year Frank Mason III on which to lean. The following March, when Mason was a rookie in the NBA, KU’s less seasoned players still had All-American Devonte’ Graham to carry them.
Lightfoot came up as a role player on those KU teams that had dominant star senior guards. Now, as a junior and a backup, he’s the savvy veteran of the locker room. The wise, old man of the bunch who should have all the answers.
“It’s a little different going from feeling like you’re just the youngin’, soaking it all in, to being the guy that helps all the other guys out, getting used to the tournament, what it’s like to play in it, being around this environment,” said Lightfoot, who enters KU’s first-round encounter against Northeastern with seven games of NCAA Tournament experience and two starts.
With Udoka Azubuike sidelined and Lagerald Vick no longer being a part of the team, the role was somewhat thrust upon Lightfoot. But that hasn’t made it any less rewarding for him.
“You get to bide your time and now you get to impart a little bit of what you learned onto the other guys,” Lightfoot said.
While the backup big who averaged 13.4 minutes a game during Big 12 play is known most for his defense in the paint and the energy he provides with his blocked shots (32) and team-leading 14 charges drawn, Lightfoot is just as valuable off the court for this roster, with seven of its top eight scorers — Dedric Lawson, Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Quentin Grimes, David McCormack, Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson — about to play in their first NCAA Tournament game.
Lightfoot has done his best to mentally prepare them for what’s to come before the ball is tipped and there they are, to steal a line from the tournament’s theme song.
“I’ve tried to do it on my own initiative, just because that’s what I would’ve wanted in their position,” Lightfoot said. “You come to this level of basketball, this is what you want to play in — this is the stage you want to be on. Obviously, you want to win at this stage, so I was just giving them some tips and pointers on what we’ve done in the past and what has helped us to win at this level. I’m just excited to be able to get out there and play with these guys and see what we’re capable of doing.”
At some point during Thursday afternoon’s first-round matchup, some tournament newbie from No. 4 seed Kansas (25-9) inevitably will make a mistake, maybe even one that leads to a dunk, like Lightfoot did a couple years ago. And with No. 14 seed Northeastern (23-10) looking to pounce and win over a neutral crowd in such instances, the way KU’s players react when something goes awry could end up playing a large role in the outcome of this game.
In Lightfoot and sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who played in all five of KU’s 2018 postseason games, the Jayhawks have a couple of players who can prepare their less experienced teammates. Lightfoot said there are ways to convey some know-how on what it feels like to make a mistake, as well as the need to find a proper response.
“I was talking to a couple of the younger guys. It’s amplified,” Lightfoot explained. “It’s like everything you’ve done times five. And you get a complete — I wouldn’t say it’s a different feeling — but it’s that feeling times five. There’s a lot of joy and there’s a lot of heartache in this tournament. You can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Just trying to keep everybody on the same page.”
Both Lightfoot and Garrett have helped the rest of the rotation get as ready as possible for the brand new and potentially stressful situation before the tournament has a chance to smack the four freshmen and three transfers over the head.
“They do a good job of coming to practice, having energy, talking, helping guys out,” Dedric Lawson said of Lightfoot and Garrett, adding he watched Lightfoot spend a portion of Wednesday helping McCormack out with details of the scouting report for Northeastern. “They definitely put their imprint upon the game.”
Of course, Lightfoot is always in his teammate’s ears about something that will end up helping them, either that very day or down the line.
“Mitch tells me before every game, ‘Go out there and do your thing.’ It goes along with you, your teammate having your back,” Lawson said. “I think (Lightfoot and Garrett) are definitely important. I’m looking for them to have their impact on this tournament just as much as me.”
Admittedly, Lightfoot called it “crazy” that he and Garrett were the only two active Jayhawks in the locker room with NCAA Tournament experience. But according to his veteran eyes, this relatively inexperienced KU team is “extremely locked in” and peaking at the right time.
The junior forward who grew up cheering for the Jayhawks from afar each postseason will continue doing all he can to educate his teammates on all things March. Part of Lightfoot’s message has echoed that of his coach, Bill Self, in terms of playing without any distractions.
Just as important, though, Lightfoot offered, will be playing loose.
“This is the most fun you’re ever going to have playing basketball. There’s nothing better than this,” Lightfoot said. “Your state championship, your state tournament in high school doesn’t match up with this. The AAU doesn’t match up with this. This is truly unique. And I think everyone’s excited to get out there and play in it. And I think they’re ready to have a good time.”
On Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., shortly after Kansas lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, freshman point guard Devon Dotson sat in the Jayhawks’ Sprint Center locker room answering questions about what went wrong.
As he detailed both the positives and negatives of the defeat from KU’s perspective, Dotson emphasized that the disappointing result came with some important lessons, especially when it came to defending a team such as ISU, which plays four guards and one big man.
“They ran some stuff that I think got us tricked up a little bit, but for the most part, I feel like we can learn from this — how to defend four guards better,” Dotson said. “And how we can score on the other end easier when our shots aren’t falling. We can find other ways to get the ball in the basket.”
Thanks to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the Jayhawks don’t have to wait long for a do-over.
Five days after their four-guard counter failed to topple the Cyclones, they’ll take on Northeastern’s four-guard attack in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday afternoon.
Iowa State’s guards possess their specific strengths and weaknesses and it’s overgeneralizing to say the Huskies will challenge KU in exactly the same fashion. For one, Northeastern’s top four guards rely even more on 3-pointers. According to hoop-math.com, among NU’s four starting guards, three take more than half of their shots from downtown, while the other came up just shy of that cutoff.
Jordan Roland takes 66.7 percent of his shots from 3-point range, Donnell Gresham Jr. comes in at 60.6 percent, Bolden Brace is at 58.7 percent and even Vava Puscia attempts 47.3 percent of his field goals from behind the arc.
After the brackets revealed KU (25-9) would play as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, head coach Bill Self was asked Sunday evening whether the previous day’s matchup with ISU would help the Jayhawks in any way against No. 13 seed Northeastern (23-10), the Colonial Athletic Association’s postseason champions.
"In theory, yes. But we prepared to play Iowa State with one walkthrough, so it wasn't like we practiced to play Iowa State,” Self noted. “We practiced last week for Texas, with actually a thought we would play Texas Tech (in the Big 12 semifinals, instead of West Virginia, which upset the Red Raiders). It will probably help more than it would hurt, but hopefully we'll be better prepared to be better at it with three days of practice."
Against Iowa State, KU began the game as it usually does, playing with two bigs, Dedric Lawson and David McCormack. But the Cyclones gave KU too many issues and Self went with four guards during much of the title game.
Don’t expect to see Self start Marcus Garrett in the NCAA Tournament’s first round just because Northeastern plays four guards, though. The Jayhawks figure to stick with two bigs to have an advantage inside offensively. And then if and when necessary they can play four guards and do so comfortably after having days to go over actions and strategies designed to overcome Northeastern.
Before the Jayhawks had much time to get into scouting reports or watch video of Northeastern, Lawson indicated Sunday night KU could play with four guards or three against Northwestern in its tournament opener.
“Coach, he already talked about he’s been in the business a long time and he knows what it takes to win. So he basically talked about sometimes play two bigs, sometimes play one big,” Lawson related. “Whatever the case may be, we all just have to buy into that role and that scouting report.”
Should the game dictate that McCormack spend less time on the court and more minutes on the bench, the 6-foot-10 freshman won’t get his feelings hurt. He explained after KU’s loss to Iowa State why logging 8 minutes didn’t catch him off guard or greatly trouble him.
“We have a full understanding of knowing how the other team plays and that they might want to play small — well, not even might — they’re gonna play small. You’re a big man and when you want to play to the advantage of your team, you understand that. It’s not an individual sport. It’s about the team and what we can do to win,” McCormack said. “So the variation in minutes didn’t affect me.”
If McCormack is forced off the floor, it won’t be because of any shortcoming of his, but the result of Northeastern’s shooting and KU’s need to have Lawson on the court as much as possible.
Between 6-foot-1 redshirt junior Roland (.408 3-point shooter), 6-1 redshirt junior Gresham (.393), 6-5 redshirt senior Puscia (.401) and junior Brace (.415), the Huskies may prove to have the fire power to force an adjustment.
If KU spends any time using Garrett, Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and Lawson as its lineup, the Jayhawks are confident in that group, even though it couldn’t rally past the Cyclones this past weekend.
“I felt like we rebounded the ball good for having four guards out there,” Garrett said of one positive, after KU had a 41-36 advantage on the glass against ISU. “We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, and just learn how to defend at the end of the shot clock.”
Immediately after KU lost to a four-guard lineup in K.C., Lawson predicted the Jayhawks would handle any opponent of that ilk better in the NCAA Tournament.
“Just keep the competitiveness,” he said. “I think guys definitely competed. We keep that competitive nature we’ll be good.”
The Jayhawks obviously have the personnel to handle the Huskies, and by the time the game tips off on Thursday afternoon they’ll be well versed in what each member of the potential Cinderella team from Boston brings to the floor.
KU’s players seem confident. And they’re saying all the right things. Now they just need to prove that they absorbed the wisdom ISU’s four guards made available to them.
If Selection Sunday is any indication, the Kansas Jayhawks should enter the NCAA Tournament feeling lucky.
While it’s true this team experienced way too many valleys during an at times rocky regular season to make any assumptions about what’s in store for the Jayhawks this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, their potential next stop was too massive to ignore.
A nine-loss KU team that is seeded fourth has no business playing in Kansas City, Mo., in the Sweet 16. But if — and this “if” should be deciphered in a font size 10 times larger than this — the Jayhawks handle their business against No. 13 seed Northeastern on Thursday and are then able to advance past either No. 5 Auburn or No. 13 New Mexico State, they’ll be right back at Sprint Center less than two weeks from now.
That hardly seems fair for the No. 1 seed in the region, North Carolina, and its leader, former KU coach Roy Williams, should the two blue bloods advance out of the opening weekend.
But this isn’t about fairness. It has much more to do with fortuity, at least on the Kansas side. On the NCAA Tournament’s master list of seeds, Nos. 1-68, KU landed at No. 13 — considered the best No. 4 seed in the field, ahead of No. 14 Florida State, No. 15 Kansas State and No. 16 Virginia Tech. And in that spot, the Jayhawks ended up in their preferred regional, the Midwest.
Good for Kansas. Bad for UNC.
Imagine if the sneakers were on the other feet — and we’re not talking Nike and Adidas. What if KU was a No. 1 seed and playing against a No. 4 seeded UNC team in Charlotte, N.C., in the Sweet 16? Those who wear crimson and blue might have been too livid to even fill out a bracket.
So is it really fair for a No. 1 seed to potentially have to travel to Kansas City, Mo., and play KU in an arena 43.3 miles away from Allen Fieldhouse?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Bill Self said Sunday evening, after the brackets were unveiled. “But I would say that, to me, if you win two games in the tournament, you know you’re going to play a really good team. And you know it’s probably going to be a neutral deal in a situation like that (the Sweet 16). But this won’t be a neutral deal if everyone advances.”
Self’s right. If the bracket were to go chalk, KU supporters could be rock-chalking it up in K.C. next week in a year when the Jayhawks didn’t win the Big 12 regular season or postseason titles.
Dedric Lawson admitted that possibility didn’t even hit him at first as the Jayhawks watched the selection show, until an on-air analyst brought it up.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ We’ve just got to win these games and get back home,’” Lawson shared.
According to Self, even if KU, UNC and Kentucky were to move on and get to K.C., all of those blue-blood fan bases could be outnumbered if the region’s No. 6 seed, the Big 12’s postseason champs, can stay hot.
“If you throw Iowa State in, if they advance, I mean they’ll have more fans there than anybody,” Self predicted.
Of course, as Self said while discussing such scenarios, we’re all getting way ahead of ourselves. But ’tis the season.
“I still think what wins more than anything is talent and talented players playing together at the right time,” Self said.
Still, even KU’s head coach couldn’t think about the possibility of a KU-UNC Sweet 16 game without recalling the last time the two programs met up, in 2013.
“Certainly we had an opportunity to play Carolina the first weekend in Kansas City and that was a pretty significant advantage for us at that particular time,” Self remembered of a 70-58 victory for No. 1 KU over No. 8 UNC in KU’s home away from home.
The Jayhawks weren’t wearing green when Selection Sunday happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, but they’ve got to be feeling a little charmed.
Good thing, too, because sometimes when March Madness comes around, it’s better to be fortunate than proven.
Kansas City, Mo. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 78-66 loss to Iowa State on Saturday night in the Big 12 title game.
KU couldn’t immediately settle in offensively in the first half, with a rowdy bunch of ISU fans screaming in support of every play that went the Cyclones’ way. The Jayhawks didn’t appear anything close to rattled. But they definitely weren’t crisp, and ISU jumped out to a 13-8 lead.
Still, the slow offensive start seemed contagious at times, as KU missed layups, 3-pointers and free throws throughout most of the first half. With 4:12 left before halftime, the Jayhawks were 10 for 31 from the floor (8 for 16 on layups), 0 for 7 on 3-pointers and 1 for 6 at the foul line. At that point, ISU led 27-21.
The Cyclones’ lead would grow to 11 before KU could get out of the miserable half and head to the locker room. The Jayhawks went almost 6 full minutes without even scoring late in the half, before Dedric Lawson went 1-for-2 at the foul line with 0:38 to go. Devon Dotson accounted for the last field goal of the half with 6:34 on the clock.
KU shot 10 for 36 in the first half, turned it over 7 times, was 0 for 9 on 3-pointers and 2-for-8 on free throws. In summation: ouch.
Down 32-22 entering the second half, KU’s offense improved. But how could it have been worse?
Even though KU made much better use of its trips into the paint in the second half, they spent basically the entirety of the half trailing by double figures, because it was going to take a borderline miraculous offensive display to catch up once the Jayhawks squandered a handful of early possessions out of halftime.
KU finished the loss 39.4% from the floor, 3 for 18 on 3-pointers and 7 for 13 at the foul line.
Early on the defensive energy came in the form of blocked shots from Quentin Grimes and a steal and layup for Devon Dotson. In the meantime, the Jayhawks often were fortunate that ISU missed some open looks from 3-point range.
Luckily for KU, and you have to give at least partial credit to the defense for this, the Cyclones weren’t exactly on point offensively in the first half either. ISU has the potential to explode with 3-point shooting and strong guard play. But the Cyclones were 3 for 11 from deep and 13 of 31 overall before intermission.
The defense just wasn’t there in the second half, though. The Cyclones led by as many as 17 points fewer than 3 minutes into the half.
ISU spent much of the decisive half scoring at will and shot 56.5% in the final 20 minutes, while making 4 of 8 3-pointers.
Although Dedric Lawson scored a couple of baskets in the first few minutes, he hit a serious funk soon after, even short-arming a wide-open layup attempt. He finished the half 2 for 11 and didn’t get his third hoop of the night until making an and-one layup inside with KU down 17, minutes into the second half.
Lawson finished a forgettable night with 18 points, 8 rebounds and shot 8 for 21.
Freshman David McCormack, meanwhile, was hardly a factor much of the game. ISU’s four-guard lineup made it difficult for Kansas to play both Lawson and McCormack, because one of them would inevitably be a defensive liability from a matchup standpoint.
McCormack contributed 4 points and 2 boards in 8 minutes.
Dotson was the only player in a KU uniform consistently making winning plays on both ends of the floor for much of the title game.
The freshman point guard’s solid efforts (17 points, 3 rebounds) couldn’t make up for the way the team played as a whole, though.
After a hot shooting night in the semifinals, Grimes couldn’t keep it going in the title game, finishing with 10 points and going 0 for 6 on 3-pointers.
Ochai Agbaji, too, struggled more than he prospered, providing the most help he could with his 6 rebounds, while scoring 5 points.
Marcus Garrett deserved a ton of credit for ISU not completely running away with this game, and he played so well that Bill Self started him in the second half instead of McCormack.
Garrett killed it on the defensive glass, and had 9 total rebounds by halftime. The sophomore guard finished with 7 points, 15 boards and 4 assists while also providing his characteristically smart and effort-driven defense.
When Dotson got into foul trouble in both halves, Charlie Moore came through with a few positive moments, and totaled 5 points and 1 assist in 14 minutes.
Kansas City, Mo. — For much of the regular season, those who follow Kansas basketball wondered when freshman Quentin Grimes might turn a corner and become the steady shooter and scorer the Jayhawks needed in the backcourt.
Perhaps turning the page to the postseason will do the trick.
Grimes shot 2-for-10 in his Big 12 tournament debut against Texas, when he scored 12 points in a quarterfinal victory, but he quickly moved on from that performance to set the nets ablaze in the semifinals. Grimes’ 5-for-8 3-point shooting led to an 18-point night for the freshman and the sense that he may finally be trending upward.
Even so, Bill Self wasn’t ready after that showing to place Grimes in the same stratosphere as a recent KU guard who caught fire just in time for March Madness.
One reporter asked Self whether the coach could compare Grimes’ uptick to what Malik Newman pulled off a year ago, during the 2018 postseason.
“No, not yet,” Self said.
“If the guy goes off and gets 30 (in Saturday night’s final versus Iowa State),” the KU coach added, “and is the most valuable player of the tournament, then, yeah, you could say that.”
You may recall that Newman, like Grimes this year, had an up-and-down regular season before turning into “Postseason Leek.” Newman went off for 30 points in his Big 12 tournament debut versus Oklahoma State, then followed it up by pouring in 22 against Kansas State and finishing his three-day run with 20 more in a title game victory over West Virginia.
So Grimes would need to put on an extra-spectacular shooting display in the championship game to give the Newman comparison more weight.
“But what did he get today, 18? What did he have, 12, yesterday? So probably not quite that level, but it is a nice addition,” Self said Friday night at Sprint Center. “And to win three games in a row, especially the situation that we’re in, you’re going to have to have some guys step up that maybe haven’t been asked to do it in the past because they’re so young, and maybe play beyond their years. And Quentin did that today.”
Despite some rough patches as a scorer over the past few months, Grimes has now produced double-digit points in four of KU’s past six games. During that span he’s 17-for-35 on 3-pointers.
Self didn’t think there wasn’t a specific moment when he noticed Grimes shooting the ball with more confidence.
“I think everybody goes through phases like that. If you look at numbers, he’s shot it better in league play than he has for the season. But it’s been a gradual thing,” Self said.
What had stopped Grimes from getting going, Self pointed out, was that he would maybe have a decent night from 3-point range, 2-for-4 or something along those lines, and then go 1-for-6 the next game.
“He hasn’t really been in a real rhythm,” Self said. “We’re saying he’s shooting it better, which he is. He looks better shooting it. He looked better shooting it (Thursday) night, but he was 1 for 6 (Thursday) night, from 3 — is that right?”
“I agree. He’s playing with more confidence, and good shooters shouldn’t remember their misses, they should only remember the makes,” Self concluded. “And I think he’s going through a phase right now where he actually feels that way.”
Grimes enters the Big 12 title game averaging 8.3 points for the season and hitting 35.9% from 3-point range.
Kansas City, Mo. — Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 88-74 win over West Virginia on Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals.
If KU hadn’t turned the ball over 16 times there wouldn’t have been much to complain about on the offensive end.
The Jayhawks scored 46 points in the paint, shot 40% from 3-point range (8 for 20) and made 52.4% of their field goal attempts overall.
Bill Self hated KU’s defense on this night, harping on WVU’s ability to easily score early on in the first half.
The Mountaineers shot 27.3% on 3-pointers and only scored 9 second-chance points. But they did make 43.5% of their shots overall, scored 40 in the paint and turned the ball over 11 times on the night.
David McCormack didn’t dominate in stretches like he did in the quarterfinals versus Texas, but the freshman big man still had his effective moments on offense, on the glass and with his effort, finishing with 7 points and 8 boards.
Dedric Lawson, on the other hand, was just as efficient as anyone could hope for. The junior forward shot 9 for 13 from the field, made 2 of 3 from 3-point range and connected on all 4 of his free throws.
Quentin Grimes caught fire in the first half, giving KU the momentum it needed to advance. Grimes drilled 5 of 8 3-pointers on the night and added 8 rebounds and 4 assists for a remarkable evening overall.
Devon Dotson, too, proved more than WVU defenders could handle on several occasions, and finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
Ochai Agbaji went for 9 points and 3 boards in 21 minutes.
Marcus Garrett keeps looking more mobile and comfortable on the ankle that hobbled him earlier this season. His defense and drives to the paint made him as valuable as anyone for KU, as he finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Mitch Lightfoot also had his moments, though not as often as Garrett. The junior blocked 4 shots in just 15 minutes and scored 4 points.
Kansas City, Mo. — Prompted Thursday night after his Big 12 tournament debut to take a trip down his personal March Madness Memory Lane, Dedric Lawson’s roots popped up.
A native of Memphis, Tenn., and, of course, a former Memphis Tiger himself, it came as no surprise that his hometown college basketball program left quite an impression on him as a child.
Though Lawson said he didn’t run around Memphis as a youngster wearing a Derrick Rose or Chris Douglas-Roberts jersey, those were his two favorite players when he first started following the game closely.
The Memphis basketball program really began to take off under then-head coach John Calipari when Lawson was in elementary school, and Lawson found himself drawn most to Douglas-Roberts, a versatile small forward not too dissimilar from the player Lawson would grow to become.
“He was more of like a 3,” Lawson said of why as a child he chose the 6-foot-7 Douglas-Roberts as his favorite player instead of the explosive point guard, Rose. “I met those guys when they were at Memphis. We used to go around the program and things like that. They was real cool. Robert Dozier (a Tigers big man), he was real, real cool, too.”
Years later, when Lawson was a member of the Memphis program, playing his first season under coach Josh Pastner and his second for Tubby Smith, some of those Tigers he grew up admiring would come back around.
“We played pickup together and things like that. Those were cool people,” Lawson said.
And with Memphis basketball so much a part of his DNA, Lawson couldn’t help but laugh about the fact that his favorite childhood team lost to Kansas in the 2008 national championship game.
Lawson was 10 years old when the man who is now his head coach, Bill Self, guided the Jayhawks to an overtime victory against Calipari and Memphis.
Was he bitter at the time?
“I definitely was,” a smiling Lawson admitted, adding he remembers it like it was yesterday.
Perhaps unfortunately for Lawson and those old March Madness scars from his time as a fan, he gets a reminder of that pain before every KU home game, when the hype video plays a clip of Mario Chalmers’ iconic 3-pointer that sent the 2008 title game to OT.
“I’m cool with it now,” a laughing Lawson shared. “I’m a part of both cultures. There’s not really too much bitterness no more. And Mario, he’s a cool guy, as well. It was great for Mario. It was something great that happened for him, something sad that happened for Memphis.”
Of course, Lawson and the Jayhawks aim to create their own March Madness memories this weekend and beyond. And right now, their focus is on Friday night’s semifinal at Sprint Center, where they will meet up with an unlikely foe, No. 10 seed West Virginia.
Lawson couldn’t have imagined before the Big 12 tournament began that KU would be facing the Mountaineers.
“Nah. We was definitely expecting Tech,” Lawson said. “Of course, everybody probably was. Just to kind of play them again — we lost to them by like 20 — so we wanted to play against them guys again,” he added, referencing KU’s 91-62 loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 23.
“But it’ll definitely be a competitive game,” Lawson said of facing a WVU team that upset Kansas in Morgantown, W.Va., back in January. “They’re not gonna quit. They’re gonna come out playing with a lot of intensity and very hard.”