Kansas City, Mo. — This year’s Kansas basketball team wouldn’t be ranked in the top 5 in the country entering this season if it had to navigate the schedule without starting point guard Devon Dotson.
So the No. 3 Jayhawks are thankful ahead of their Thursday night exhibition opener against Fort Hays State that Dotson only rolled his right ankle when the much larger Silvio De Sousa fell on KU’s primary ball handler during Tuesday’s practice.
Head coach Bill Self wasn’t ready on the eve of the preseason warmup to rule out Dotson, but if that ends up being the case against FHSU, it would give everyone an idea of the types of lineups Self could use on those rare occasions that Dotson (32.4 minutes per game in 2018-19) isn’t on the floor.
There’s no better time than when the games don’t count against your record to experiment.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Dotson replied Wednesday afternoon at Sprint Center, when asked if a brief hiatus might prove beneficial for KU’s other point guard options, of which there really aren’t many.
Make no mistake, though, no one on the roster will become the pseudo-Dotson and try to play like the speedy 6-foot-2 sophomore from Charlotte, N.C.
“Nah, nobody,” a smiling Dotson said. “Everybody plays their own game and stuff.”
Without Dotson, junior Marcus Garrett would fill in at point guard, bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense. Self might not truly trust anyone else in that role — at least not in late October.
“If Devon can’t play, even tomorrow night, Marcus needs to be in the game,” Self said, “because we really don’t have a secondary ball handler that could run the team.”
That’s why these mostly meaningless reps could help the entire team. Dotson’s not going to play 40 minutes a game. There will be times in the months ahead when he has to sit because of foul trouble or some in-game injury setback. And then what does KU look like without him?
Better to get an idea now than be forced to later. It could come in especially handy for any stretches of KU’s season opener against Duke when Dotson is on the bench.
Even if Garrett’s shooting remains a question going into his junior year at KU, the 6-5 guard from Dallas is as close to a point guard as exists among the 13 Jayhawks not named Devon Dotson.
“He’s really good with the ball,” Self said of Garrett, “and he’s shown last year and even the year before that he was really good with the ball, but he was actually better because other teams would put a big on him to guard him, so he was more apt to be able to beat people off the bounce.”
Garrett might not be so lucky to have a forward trying to defend him at point guard whenever he needs to replace Dotson this season. And that could be problematic. Self didn’t want to label Garrett a point guard, but said the junior possesses some point guard skills.
KU’s options behind Dotson and Garrett, whom Self called “without question” the team’s two best ball handlers, are scarce.
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji at least played some point — as well as just about every other position — in high school at Oak Park (Mo.). Agbaji said he would be comfortable as an offensive initiator in a pinch. He didn’t claim to be as adept a fill-in point guard as Garrett.
“Marcus has a tighter handle than I do, as in creating, getting downhill, being more aggressive and creating for others,” Agbaji said. “That’s something he does. And also something I’ve really taken my game to, creating for others and creating for myself, also.”
Although Agbaji is older, more experienced and higher in the pecking order as a starter, Self said freshman guard Christian Braun is a more likely emergency point guard. At KU’s practices, Self tries to keep his three starting guards — Dotson, Garrett and Agbaji — together in scrimmage and five-on-five situations.
That leaves the other team in those settings thin in the backcourt. So Self finds himself saying, “Christian, go play point.” As a result, the 6-6 guard from Burlington actually has spent more time playing the position in practices than Agbaji.
If Dotson can’t go for KU’s first of two exhibitions, though, Self doesn’t see it as good timing or oddly valuable.
“I would rather him be out in practice and play in games, and we can experiment in practice,” Self said. “What it does, though, is it puts you in a situation where you’re not going to play anything like you’re going to play when you play a real game. So I don’t know how much it’ll help, but certainly it’ll give somebody some experience, whether it be Christian or whoever getting the chance to play some emergency point.”
Even though the questions about worst-case scenario fill-in point guards led Udoka Azubuike to joke to Dotson, “I can run the point,” it’s safe to say point Dok won’t be making an appearance in any type of lineup combination.
Asked about the 7-footer’s bid as the lead ball handler, Agbaji looked left to size up the senior center sitting next to him, and turned back to give a Jim from “The Office” look to the cameras and reporters, as well as a one-word response.
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.
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 64-49 win over Kansas State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Considering that K-State has one of the better defenses in the nation, the Jayhawks were highly unlikely to blow out their rivals in this Sunflower Showdown.
KU shot 39.6% from the floor overall and only made 8 of 24 3-pointers.
But the ball security (see: 10 Kansas turnovers) kept the Wildcats from feasting off takeaways.
Freshman David McCormack accounted for 2 of those mistakes, while the rest of KU’s rotations players combined for just 8. That may be the most important thing accomplished offensively for Kansas in this one.
KU’s ability to switch defensively, Barry Brown said after shooting 1 for 8, turned the Wildcats’ offense stagnant.
Mitch Lightfoot (credited 3 blocks) defended the paint well, too, and with Dedric Lawson competing inside as well, the Wildcats couldn’t manage any more than 8 points in the paint.
K-State only connected on 31.6% of its shots in the loss and the Big 12’s first-place team hit 8 of 24 3-pointers.
Lawson was back to his double-double ways, putting up 18 points and 14 rebounds. But he shot 6 for 20 from the floor and missed all 4 of his 3-point tries.
The big man’s passing proved useful, though, as Lawson dished 5 of KU’s 14 assists.
While McCormack started once again, he made little to no impact.
Devon Dotson attacked off the dribble, seeking out the paint whenever he could. Even when those ventures didn’t conclude with baskets or assists, his successful drives for paint touches forced the K-State defense to react, making the freshman point guard a critical cog for the offense.
Dotson produced 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting and hit 1 of his 5 3-pointers.
Fellow freshman Quentin Grimes was in catch-and-fire mode all night from beyond the arc, and shot 3 for 6 from deep on his way to 12 points.
Ochai Agbaji had a rare ineffective home game offensively, finishing scoreless in 16 minutes.
Lightfoot at points controlled the game while fueling a crucial KU victory. His energy and want-to were off the charts, making it easy for him to finish with the stat line: 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists in 31 minutes.
Marcus Garrett played 27 minutes in his second game back from his ankle injury and knocked in a couple of 3-pointers (one of them banked in).
KU’s bench outscored the K-State reserves 18-10.
Losing a starter for five games in February isn’t exactly ideal for a college basketball team.
It’s this time of year when a season has the potential to turn, for better or worse, and fine-tuning lineups and roles can set a team up for a March Madness run.
Considering recent personnel developments for Kansas, the past couple of weeks have gone about as well as coach Bill Self could have hoped, with the exception of the Jayhawks’ Feb. 5 loss at rival Kansas State.
KU lost starting guard Marcus Garrett to an ankle injury on the same day the team learned that the NCAA ruled big man Silvio De Sousa ineligible. And somehow, even without Garrett, who is averaging 28.8 minutes a game as a sophomore, Kansas is 4-1 since.
Now comes the tricky part, right? Garrett this week finally has been able to participate in practices as he works closer to a return. But when Garrett was out, freshmen Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji emerged as reliable producers for Kansas. What happens to the chemistry and flow and momentum when the Jayhawks are reintegrating Garrett into the rotation, possibly as soon as this Saturday’s crucial road test at Texas Tech?
KU can’t afford for its newest difference-makers, Dotson and Agbaji, to hit a snag at this juncture. How does the team’s dynamic change when Garrett is able to return?
Self has a two-word answer to that question.
Neither Dotson nor Agbaji should miss a beat when KU’s rotation gains some much needed depth with Garrett.
“That’s not Marcus' role anyway,” Self said of what Dotson and Agbaji have been able to provide of late. “Marcus should blend in better than ever now, because he should have more help around him."
Prior to Garrett’s injury and Lagerald Vick’s leave of absence, KU was probably asking too much of Garrett, an awesome role player, but not a go-to scorer by any means at this stage of his career. There was a four-game stretch in January when Garrett was averaging more than 10 shot attempts a game, beginning with his 20-point outburst in a home win over Texas.
The Jayhawks no longer need him to do that. They need Garrett’s defense, his ball handling, his ability to drive and dish, and his overall basketball IQ. But now anything Garrett provides in the scoring column will feel like a bonus. Dedric Lawson, Dotson and Agbaji have proven themselves as a trio of reliable scorers, and with Garrett’s team-first approach on the court, those roles might even become easier for them once he’s back.
Imagine if a player with the physical presence of Udoka Azubuike were returning at this point of the regular season, with March just days away. Sure, the Jayhawks would be ecstatic to have the 7-footer back, but an adjustment period would be necessary for involved.
Shifting back to lineups featuring the versatile Garrett, who can defend guards and bigs alike and even give Dotson some breathers at point guard, will be straightforward as soon as he’s deemed game-ready.
You never want to lose a starter and then plug him back in late in the season while hoping for the best, but doing so with Garrett will be painless for the Jayhawks.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 80-76 win over Iowa State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas had one of its most lopsided games of the season in terms of scoring inside. Thanks in large part to a dominant night by junior big Dedric Lawson, the Jayhawks scored 46 points in the paint.
With so much of the team’s offense coming off of high-percentage looks, KU shot 51.6% from the floor overall, while sending in 6 of 14 from 3-point range.
One prominent knock against the offense: Kansas, as it has on several occasions this season, finished with more turnovers (11) than assists (10).
Maybe it was just that the Cyclones felt so comfortable taking 3-pointers (12 of 30) that they didn’t bother getting to the paint as much. But ISU only scored 26 points in the paint. The visitors shot 10 for 15 in the paint in the first half and 3 for 11 in the second.
You have to give the Jayhawks at least some credit for those 8 second-half misfires in the paint, right?
ISU shot 43.5% from the floor. That number would surely have been higher had the Jayhawks’ defense not improved in the second half, when the Cyclones shot 33.3% and scored 34 points.
Lawson played all but 2 minutes and was the primary reason KU got out of Big Monday with a win.
The junior’s 29 points and 15 rebounds (7 on offense) were too much for the Cyclones to handle. Wigginton Lawson even blocked a Lindell Wigginton dunk attempt in the game’s final minute, with KU leading by 3.
The invaluable Marcus Garrett again put up double-digit points (16) while chipping in 5 rebounds, 3 steals and the type of defense that helps KU survive in the Big 12.
Devon Dotson was as good as he’s been all season at attacking the paint and distributing (8 assists), even though many of his shots wouldn’t fall (3 for 12).
Lagerald Vick scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, when he made both of his 3-point tries.
Quentin Grimes didn’t start the second half and only played 19 minutes, going scoreless (0 for 4) for the first time in his career.
The real Ochai Agbaji was back, as the freshman produced 8 points and 5 boards. But he fouled out in 16 minutes of action.
KJ Lawson provided some second-half energy, with his 3 rebounds and 2 points.
KU’s four subs outscored ISU’s two, 10-3.
Bill Self could not care much less about how many electrifying highlights his players deliver during any given game. Dunks and layups, after all, carry the same two-point value on the scoreboard.
Be that as it may, the Kansas basketball coach has, on his own accord, referenced the slams — or lack thereof — from his Jayhawks following two of their past three games.
After KU defeated TCU at Allen Fieldhouse just more than a week ago, Self was discussing freshman Ochai Agbaji finishing an alley-oop for his first college basket, when the coach introduced the subject.
“I thought it might be something to energize the crowd a little bit, because we have been so boring playing above the rim,” Self said at the time. “At least we had some activity.”
That was two games into KU’s new layup-laden reality, also known as life without Udoka Azubuike. The high-percentage and opposition-demoralizing dunks the 7-footer provided before suffering a season-ending wrist injury are irreplaceable.
That fact was hammered home like a vintage Azubuike throwdown after KU defeated Texas on Big Monday earlier this week.
“We didn’t get a dunk tonight,” Self pointed out, while answering a question about Marcus Garrett’s potential to score in the paint. “So we don’t have guys that finish around the rim like past teams do. But I thought Dedric (Lawson) had a couple of great finishes late, and I certainly thought Marcus had some good finishes in there. But the whole team, you know, we need everybody to be in there.”
Indeed, it’s liveliness and a desire to go make plays in the paint that Self is seeking out of his players at this point, because if you combine all the dunks provided by Jayhawks not named Udoka Azubuike this season, it adds up to 24 — a bakers dozen shy of the 37 slams Azubuike racked up over the course of nine games.
In the four games since its starting center was lost for the season, KU (15-2 overall, 4-1 Big 12) has only been outscored in the paint once, 32-24 at Baylor. In defeating the Longhorns two days later, UT scored on three dunks in each half for 12 total points, but slam-less KU still prevailed in points in the paint, 34-28.
When Azubuike missed four games in December with an ankle injury, the Jayhawks were outscored in the paint by both New Mexico State and Villanova, but scored more inside than both South Dakota and Arizona State.
On the year, KU is averaging 37.8 points in the paint and holding opponents to 26.7. But that margin diminishes when looking only at the games Azubuike has missed: KU 32.5, foes 29.3.
Now that the Jayhawks don’t have the option of throwing entry passes or lobs to Azubuike, scoring around the rim isn’t quite as easy or consistent. But they still have a highly efficient option in junior forward Dedric Lawson.
True, Lawson is known for his old-man game in and around the post, and not his athleticism nor explosiveness (see: the 6-9 forward’s two made dunks in 539 minutes this season). All the same, according to hoop-math.com, Lawson has made 75% of his shots around the rim to date, converting 72 of 96, both team highs. Azubuike was 50 for 62 at the rim, for 80.6% accuracy.
Self made it clear Thursday, ahead of KU’s trip to West Virginia, that it matters not to him how his Jayhawks score inside. He hasn’t brought up dunks because he’s demanding to see more of them.
“But it just matters in general for athletic plays that are easy baskets, you know. That’s what matters,” Self said. “If you’re playing above the rim, then it probably gives you more opportunities for offensive rebounds, keeping balls alive and things like that. We don’t have a team that really does that.”
KU’s 16th-year head coach said he’s “OK” with this batch of Jayhawks spending less time in the air space above the basket. They just need to make up for that in other areas that don’t require frequent flier miles.
“We haven’t had many teams that we don’t throw the ball up,” Self said, referencing KU’s countless soaring finishers through the years. “And that’s why I was so excited about Ochai, because he’d be the best candidate for that. But, still, those are plays that happen randomly. Those aren’t set plays near as much.”
While one might assume KU should be able to play faster without Azubuike, fast break chances haven’t exactly spiked in his absence. The Jayhawks scored four transition points at Iowa State, eight versus TCU, two at Baylor and six against Texas.
If Devon Dotson and KU’s athletic guards can push the ball in the open court more going forward, that could help the Jayhawks at least experience an uptick in paint points and dunks.
“Transition, two-on-one, you just naturally throw it up,” Self said of fast breaks. “And we haven’t been very good at that.”
KU dunks on the season, through 17 games
— Shots made and attempted at the rim, per hoop-math.com, listed in parentheses for each player
Udoka Azubuike — 37 dunks (50 for 62, 80.6%)
Lagerald Vick — 6 dunks (21 for 32, 65.6%)
David McCormack — 4 dunks (10 for 18, 55.6%)
Marcus Garrett — 4 dunks (23 for 43, 53.5%)
Ochai Agbaji — 3 dunks (5 for 5, 100%)
Mitch Lightfoot — 3 dunks (9 for 15, 60%)
Dedric Lawson — 2 dunks (72 for 96, 75%)
Quentin Grimes — 2 dunks (21 for 32, 65.6%)
Devon Dotson — 0 dunks (44 for 68, 64.7%)
K.J. Lawson — 0 dunks (4 for 5, 80%)
Charlie Moore — 0 dunks (4 for 15, 26.7%)
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 80-78 win over Texas on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks rarely look so good shooting from 3-point range and taking care of the ball on the same night as they did versus Texas.
Not only did KU hit double-digit 3-pointers for just the third time this season, going 11 of 21, but they only gave the ball away 4 times in 40 minutes, while finishing with 14 assists on 29-for-54 shooting (53.7%) from the field.
The primary knock against the Jayhawks this night was their performance at the foul line, where they connected on only 11 of 21.
The Longhorns were nearly as effective offensively as the perennial Big 12 champs.
KU couldn’t put away Texas in either half because its defenders kept letting the Longhorns loose, especially behind the arc.
UT hit 13 of 34 from deep in its two-point loss. The Longhorns only turned the ball over 6 times and hit 42% of their shots overall.
Dedric Lawson was more effective on the glass versus UT than he was two days earlier at Baylor, leading the Jayhawks with 8 rebounds this time around. But Texas won the battle of the boards, 38-31.
And though Lawson’s 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting didn’t qualify as one of his more dominant outings, the junior was efficient in his 26 minutes (the relatively low playing time a result of some early foul issues).
Most importantly for KU, Lawson made a point to exert himself offensively in crunch time, scoring three layups in the final five minutes of the narrow win.
On the other end of the court, his interior defense didn’t hold up consistently, and Dylan Osetkowski at times was able to score over Lawson with ease.
Where on earth did that Marcus Garret outing come from? The sophomore was more assertive offensively against the Longhorns than he ever has looked in a KU uniform. His approach resulted in a 20-point night that included a 3-for-4 performance from downtown. Not to mention Garrett’s 3 assists, 1 block and 3 steals in 35 minutes. And an absolutely critical held ball tie-up in crunch time.
Lagerald Vick not only stayed hot from long range, draining 5 of 8 on the way to 21 points, but also distributed 4 assists.
Steady Devon Dotson, like Vick, didn’t turn the ball over once, while scoring 10 points, dishing 5 assists and making 1 of 2 from 3-point range.
Though Quentin Grimes opened the night by firing and burying a 3, he didn’t contribute a great deal afterward, finishing with 6 points (2 of 5 from deep) in 29 minutes.
For once, Ochai Agbaji looked more like a true freshman a week into his career than a veteran. Even so, Agbaji accounted for 4 of the team’s 6 bench points and 1 of his 2 assists setup Lawson for a late-game layup in a tight affair. The freshman guard chipped in 4 rebounds, as well.
Freshman big David McCormack scored the other basket for KU’s substitutes and played with energy and power for a brief stretch of the second half. McCormick provided 4 boards in 8 minutes.
UT’s subs outscored KU’s 24-6.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 70-63 win over Oklahoma on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
The defending Big 12 champs got off to a slow start in their league opener, missing makable looks while the visiting Sooners jumped out to a 9-2 lead less than four minutes in.
The Jayhawks wisely responded by attacking the paint, scoring their first 18 points of the evening inside and taking a 12-11 lead on a Quentin Grimes fastbreak layup just past the 12:00 mark of the first half.
It wasn’t until Grimes buried a 3-pointer from the right wing at the 9:09 mark that KU scored from outside the restricted area and by then, all the work KU had done in transition allowed the Grimes 3 to extend KU’s lead to 21-11.
A 40-25 halftime lead was comfortable, for sure. But KU wasn’t as smooth offensively when it wasn’t able to get out in the open floor. That showed up early in the second half, as the home team went more than five minutes without as much as a single point.
KU’s first point came on a Marcus Garrett free throw at the 14:26 mark. The Jayhawks, after an 0-for-8 start to the half, finally got a bucket when Dedric Lawson drove at Brady Manek and scored over him inside with 13:02 to play.
That spark, although small in the moment, foreshadowed a matchup KU could exploit later on, serving as a relative turning point for the offense after intermission as KU held on.
KU final shooting stats: 41.3% FGs, 19% 3s, 63.6% FTs.
KU thrived early on OU turnovers, scoring 15 points off Sooners miscues in the first half alone, with the Jayhawks swiping six steals in the process.
The Sooners went much of the night without finding quality looks and their best chances often came from behind the arc, where the visitors struggled (see: 2 for 12 in the first half).
Though OU entered with confidence and just one loss on the season, KU’s defense never hit much of a lull and the Sooners were rarely able to thrive.
OU final shooting stats: 40.3% FGs, 22.7% 3s
It was a slow start for KU junior forward Lawson, who missed his first seven attempts. But the versatile big scored a couple layups late in the opening half to at least bust out of the 0-for night he was having.
Lawson really started rolling near the midway point of the second half, a stretch that jumpstarted with him going at Brady Manek one-on-one. Lawson scored six points in a crucial two-minute stretch for KU, which went from up five to up 13 in a hurry with Lawson as the focal point offensively.
The junior from Memphis kept his season averages above the double-double level, finishing with 13 points and 15 rebounds. He even blocked a shot in crunch time.
Udoka Azubuike looked to be his typical unstoppable self inside, going 4 for 5 in the first half for eight easy points, as well as six rebounds. But a slow start to the second half for the 7-footer kept him on the bench for stretches, and in the final minutes Azubuike watched form the bench, with OU looking to foul the big man.
Azubuike ended up with 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Though none of KU’s trio of starting guards ever took over for a stretch, they more than held their own versus OU and rarely looked overwhelmed.
Grimes ran his way to some easy transition points and produced 14 points in the victory.
Fellow freshman Devon Dotson thrived catching Sooners off guard, swiping 4 steals. The young point guard’s speed and shiftiness served him well on offense, too, as he produced 16 points.
Dotson’s heady take to the rim off a loose ball with 2:35 to play turned into an old-fashioned 3-point play and a 65-56 KU lead.
Senior Lagerald Vick was willing to take shots when KU needed something to go right offensively. Though Vick only hit 2 of 7 3-pointers, he provided 12 points for KU, as well as 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
Vick’s confidence never wavered, but he coughed the ball up 4 times.
Sixth man Marcus Garrett proved to be KU’s best creator offensively and distributed a team-best 5 assists.
The sophomore guard scored all 5 of KU’s 7 bench points. OU’s subs produced 7 points.
Charlie Moore went 0 for 4 from the floor and 2 for 4 at the foul line.
Kansas City, Mo. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 63-60 win over New Mexico State on Saturday night at Sprint Center.
The starting lineup didn’t miss Lagerald Vick in the opening minutes versus the Aggies. Charlie Moore came out attacking, as did Quentin Grimes, helping KU jump out to a 12-2 lead.
But that flow didn’t continue for long. With Dedric Lawson missing some bunnies inside and KU turning the ball over on six of its first 20 possessions, New Mexico State eventually took a 22-21 lead with fewer than 6:00 left in the first half.
By intermission, Kansas was shooting 34.4 percent from the floor and turned the ball over eight times on 31 possessions.
The offense remained choppy in the second half, keeping the outcome in doubt into crunch time.
KU shot 43 percent overall and 7-for-21 on 3-pointers.
It was hard to find a ton of fault with KU’s defense in the first half. Sure, there were breakdowns here and there, like getting beat backdoor or showing a lack of help defense. But KU did hold the Aggies to 28 first-half points and 3-for-12 3-point shooting.
The biggest issues in the first half usually led to NMSU scoring inside, where the underdog put up 18 points and KU had only 12.
The Aggies kept getting the shots they wanted in the second half, and extended their lead to 51-44.
NMSU connected on 46 percent of its shots and went 7-for-26 on 3-pointers. And the Aggies won points in the paint, 36-32.
KU’s defense played well enough in the final minutes for the nation’s No. 2 team to leave with a win.
The offense needs to run through Lawson, especially with Udoka Azubuike out with an ankle sprain. But that strategy wasn’t working in the first half. Sometimes teammates threw bad entry passes. Other times Lawson just mishandled the ball on catches or during takes to the rim.
And when Lawson struggles, it doesn’t seem this team yet has someone who will automatically step up and pick up the slack. So the whole offense went ragged as the junior forward tried to work his way through first-half struggles.
Lawson also often ended up out of position trying to defend NMSU big Ivan Aurrecoechea (14 points).
NMSU, on many occasions, outworked KU on the glass, and the final rebound totals read: Aggies 37, Jayhawks 36.
The junior forward’s biggest impact came on the offensive glass, where Lawson grabbed five rebounds.
He finally found some semblance of a rhythm late, scoring back-to-back baskets inside (one on a put-back) to tie the game at 53. His second-chance basket later pushed KU ahead 57-55. The next trip down the floor, Lawson made his first 3 of the night for a 60-57 lead.
HIs drive to the paint to draw contact and get to the foul line with less than a minute to play, gave him two free throws and KU a 62-59 lead.
On a mercurial evening for KU’s best player, Lawson finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Devon Dotson often looks like the team’s most dynamic player with the ball in his hands. But the freshman point guard continues to learn when he can make the most of that ability.
When Dotson (eight points) is driving into the paint, good things tend to happen. And he delivered one of his steal-and-fastbreak layup sequences early in the second half.
But it was sophomore Marcus Garrett who was the team’s most complete guard much of the night. Garrett (10 points,, two assists) even knocked in multiple 3-pointers (2-for-4). His defensive awareness and mostly solid decisions on offense weren’t enough for KU to roll. But they were needed on an often stagnant night.
Freshman Quentin Grimes (five points) looked good early, driving in for a basket inside and hitting a 3-pointer, but failed to provide much offense after that.
Moore, who started in Vick’s place, had a similar drought in terms of making an impact. The typical backup finished with five points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Baskets were scarce for KU at Sprint Center and the team needed Vick to deliver some sort of offensive spark. The senior guard was ineffective most of the night, and finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Mitch Lightfoot got one of the loudest rises out of the crowd near the 12:00 mark of the second half by running the floor on a Vick steal and getting rewarded with a pass for a two-handed jam that cut NMSU’s lead to 46-42.
Lightfoot, who drew a pair of second-half charges, played with energy and it showed in his stat line: seven points, six rebounds in 18 minutes.
Freshman big David McCormack wasn’t much of a factor, playing only four minutes.
NMSU out-scored KU’s bench 19-15.
Your best post player goes down. Time for another to step up, right?
Not for this Kansas basketball team.
The absence of center Udoka Azubuike, no matter how long the 7-footer’s right ankle sprain keeps him out of the lineup, doesn’t necessarily mean more minutes for the frontcourt reserves who have been backing him up.
Head coach Bill Self loved the talents of Azubuike and Dedric Lawson too much to not go big and play them together. But now that his starting center is out, Self’s ready to adapt by reviving the four-guard look that worked so well for the Jayhawks the past couple of seasons.
While Lawson, a 6-foot-9 redshirt junior, isn’t the type of low-post player Azubuike is, Self isn’t going to ask his versatile forward, who leads the No. 2 Jayhawks in scoring (19 points per game), rebounds (10.7) and assists (3.1) to try to be someone he’s not. And Self has no intention of forcing junior Mitch Lightfoot or freshman David McCormack into the lineup as a pseudo-Dok just because that’s the style KU played during its 7-0 start.
The offense will start running through Lawson even more now, as guards Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett play around him. If Lawson (32.7 minutes a game) needs a breather, then Self will turn to either Lightfoot (6.6 minutes) or McCormack (4.5 minutes) a little more than he has previously.
But even when KU is faced with defending a team that plays two bigs together, Self doesn’t think that will force him to match it. Garrett, a 6-5 sophomore guard, proved earlier this week in KU’s 72-47 victory over Wofford he can more than hold his own as the 4-man, the role occupied in recent four-guard lineups by Svi Mykhailiuk and Josh Jackson.
“We defended them so much better with Marcus on their big guy,” Self said of one factor that convinced KU’s coaching staff to start Garrett instead of another big in Azubuike’s spot. “I have confidence in Marcus defending the 4-man. Now we may need to trap the post or do some things like that. But I think that’s good for us.”
Ask a guard about the in-season modification to the Jayhawks’ style and he’ll think about what it will do for the offense.
“That gives us a bunch of freedom,” Grimes said of Garrett joining the starting lineup. “Really whoever gets (the ball on a defensive stop), all five can essentially bring it. So I think it’s definitely going to help us out for sure.”
Grimes envisions not only he and Vick catching more lobs but also he and Garrett throwing more of them.
“I think it’ll be really fun,” Grimes said.
Self, though, isn’t moving to a four-guard lineup because he’s concerned about anyone’s enjoyment or entertainment. He’s backing away from a two-big approach because Garrett’s defensive versatility makes it an easy decision.
“He’s got good size, he’s got long arms,” Self began, when asked how Garrett is able to guard both perimeter and post players. “But he is very, very smart. As far as IQ and understanding the game on the defensive side, he’s right up there with the best that we’ve ever had. And he’s tough. And he’s strong. And he pays attention to scouting reports. So he knows when to show, when not to show, when to front. … He just does a better job, I’d say, than the majority of college players out there early in his career, because he does have a great feel defensively.”
And, believe it or not, Self and his staff have long thought this year’s KU team has a chance to become “really good” defensively. Self said Thursday that may even end up becoming this group’s identity.
For much of the first six games, that didn’t look to be the case. But Self saw during Tuesday’s win over Wofford glimpses of speed and length and activity from his guards that he and his assistants first witnessed during both the summer and fall.
He’s not ready to call KU a good defensive team yet. Self remembers how his team “stunk” on that end of the floor against Stanford just five days ago. But he has observed both improvement and potential.
If that’s the vision, it may be difficult for either Lightfoot or McCormack to play huge minutes, even if they play well. KJ Lawson and Charlie Moore can step into the four-guard lineup around Dedric Lawson as needed. And Lightfoot and McCormack can sub in and still find ways to impact the game.
“We’re similar but still different,” the 6-10 McCormack said of what he and the 6-8 Lightfoot bring. “We’re both high intensity, both hustle players, both rebounders. There’s some aspects that Mitch does that I don’t. Like Mitch might step out and he’ll shoot a 3-pointer every now and then — something I may not do,” McCormack added. “Me, I’m more back to the basket. He may want to face up. So there are some differences, but there are some similarities at the same time.”
McCormack has the build and McDonald’s All-American pedigree to potentially perform his way into more playing time. And Lightfoot remains a strong help-side rim protector, as well as the best Jayhawk at taking charges.
But if neither ends up seeing a huge uptick in minutes while Azubuike is out, you won’t see either of them sulking. They’re two high character teammates, too, who will do all they can to contribute in a four-guard lineup that isn’t built to feature them.