The Day After: Status quo vs. K-State
For the third time this season, the Kansas University men’s basketball team defeated in-state rival Kansas State, this one coming via an 85-63 victory in the Big 12 championship quarterfinals on Thursday at Sprint Center.
It was by far KU’s easiest victory over the Wildcats this season and featured a Kansas team that looked hungry and excited to get this postseason thing going.
Way back in July, when Kansas was busy playing for a gold medal at the World University Games in Korea, people started talking about (a) how much that experience could help this team and (b) how concerned they were about the long-term effect fatigue might have, as well.
Even during KU’s January funk, when the Jayhawks lost three straight Big 12 road games and looked to be in jeopardy of losing their hold on the conference, the trip to Korea came up as a possible reason for the rough patch.
But Thursday, after being asked to explain his team’s third loss to the Jayhawks this season, K-State coach Bruce Weber reference Korea.
“We are going to Europe in August,” Weber began. “So we get 10 days extra practice. And you can see how tough Kansas is. That trip last year, people don’t understand how valuable it was. That competition, you know what, they play 13 games, two exhibitions, 11 over there. I’m amazed people say they’re going to wear down. Shoot, they seem bouncier and playing harder than ever now, and they played all of the games and had the extra practices. But they have an older, good group. Like I say, they really play together. And when you’ve got two guards like Mason and Graham, that makes a big difference.”
Well said, Bruce. Kansas does not appear to be tiring. It appears to be just hitting its stride.
The Jayhawks were incredibly efficient during Thursday’s victory, especially on the offensive end, where they shot 57 percent and assisted on 24 of 32 field goals. But, as good as the KU offense was, it was the return of that suffocating defense that most impressed me. After letting Iowa State become the first team to top .415 shooting since Kentucky in late January, KU bounced back by limiting K-State to .387, including a .367 mark in the second half when KU really ran away. On a team as deep as this, with so many offensive weapons and so many different guys willing and able to step up and be the man to score, it’s KU’s defense that can (and probably will) determine whether they make a deep tourney run or not.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Frank Mason showed a lot of fire, at least by Frank Mason’s standard. And KU coach Bill Self said after the game that this is a different team when Mason displays that kind of energy, emotion and passion during games. Self said he expects that from Devonte’ Graham and even Wayne Selden, Landen Lucas and Perry Ellis for the most part. But Mason, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting on Thursday, is the hardest guy to get it out of and Self loves to see it.
2 – At just the right time of year, freshman forward Carlton Bragg showed up and gave opponents something else to worry about. Bragg was great in this one, finishing with a career-high 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and he even knocked down both of his three-point attempts. Not bad for a guy who had attempted five three-pointers all season. Offensively, Bragg looked comfortable, confident and under control in this one. Defensively, he finished with five fouls and did not grab a single rebound. That’s not something this team will mind (because it doesn’t necessarily need it) if Bragg can continue to contribute at such an efficient rate on the offensive end.
3 – I thought the most impressive part about Thursday’s effort against K-State was not KU’s field goal percentage and not even its ability to keep Kansas State from shooting a good percentage. Instead, it was just how hard KU played, especially late in the second half when the game was in hand and KU easily could’ve coasted to victory. Instead of doing that, the Jayhawks continued to jump every passing lane, pressure the ball and attack on offense. It was clearly a team that viewed the second half of an easy victory as yet another opportunity to fine-tune things.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The Wildcats showed no qualms about pounding the ball inside when looking to score on offense. And for a good chunk of Thursday’s game, they did just that. K-State finished with 30 points in the paint and fed D.J. Johnson (10 points on 4-of-8 shooting) over and over when he was on the floor. The problem for the Wildcats, though, was that Johnson had trouble staying on the floor because of his four fouls. Had he been able to play more than 15 minutes, that points in the paint number no doubt would’ve been higher and an early-season concern about this Kansas team — it’s ability to handle bigger teams — might’ve resurfaced for a few minutes. It’s not that KU was ever in jeopardy of losing this game, more that Johnson’s success inside could serve as a blueprint of sorts for other, more capable foes.
2 – Justin Edwards’ 23 points (on a very productive 9-of-15 shooting) were not a terrible issue. The rest of the Wildcats struggled to score and Edwards was on, so it made sense for his point total to be high by game’s end. What did not make sense was the guard’s double-digit number in the rebounding category. Edwards led all players with 10 rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive end. K-State plays a scrappy brand of basketball and Edwards is particularly tenacious. Even though KU won the game and controlled things most of the way, Edwards’ line shows at least five times when the Wildcats outworked the Jayhawks.
3 – It sure seems like Thursday’s game would’ve been another good opportunity for freshman Cheick Diallo to get some extended minutes and grow his confidence. Instead, Diallo sat on the bench with a few stitches in his mouth, the result of a fluke accident in practice in which Svi popped him in the mouth. Self said Diallo could have played but that he didn’t want him to get hit again and have the stitches come loose. So he sat him. No harm, no foul. All that was lost, really, was a chance for Diallo to experience the feel of do-or-tie, tournament-time basketball for the first time, which could’ve served KU well if it needed him down the road.
One for the road
KU’s third win over K-State this season...
• Pushed Kansas' winning streak to 12 in a row.
• Made Kansas 18-2 all-time in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 championship and 39-10 overall.
• Improved KU’s record vs. Kansas State in the Big 12’s postseason tournament to 9-0.
• Secured Kansas' 28th win for the fifth time in the last 8 seasons.
• Gave Bill Self a career record of 587-187, including a 380-82 mark at Kansas.
• Improved KU's overall record to 2,181-835.
The win moved the Jayhawks into Friday’s semifinals, where they’ll face No. 5 seed Baylor (a 75-61 winner over Texas in Thursday’s early game) at 6 p.m. at Sprint Center, with a berth in the Big 12 title game on the line.
— See what people were saying about KU’s quarterfinal vs. rival K-State during KUsports.com’s live coverage
More news and notes from KU’s Big 12 Tournament win over K-State
- On a roll: Bragg, Jayhawks impress in tourney opener
- Keegan: Graham, Mason driving KU’s success
- Kansas native Wade disappointed in performance vs. Kansas
- Jayhawks have incentive to beat Baylor in semis
- Notebook: Diallo sits out Big 12 Tournament opener
- Jayhawks roll against K-State to open postseason
- Keegan Ratings: Mason shows few flaws against Wildcats