The Day After: Hounding the Huskies
The Kansas Jayhawks are back in the Sweet 16, a place they have not been since 2013, when Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey were roaming the court for Kansas.
That year, the Jayhawks followed up their 2012 national title game run with a strong season that seemed bound for an Elite Eight match-up with Florida, before a late collapse against Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Dallas sent the Jayhawks home.
This year, KU rolls into the Sweet 16 after impressive victories over Austin Peay (105-79) and Saturday night’s 73-61 win over UConn.
As has been the case for much of the season, different players stepped up at different times for the Jayhawks, who were led in Des Moines by both a reserve wing player and two front-line leading scorers.
That type of depth makes this team such a beast to prepare for and game plan against and is a big reason the Jayhawks (32-4) are still playing into the second weekend of this year’s tourney.
KU’s first half against the Huskies was good. Really good. And it showed exactly why the Jayhawks entered this tournament as the favorite to win it all and a popular pick in many brackets to make a deep run. The Jayhawks’ confidence is as high as it’s been since the 2012 team — led by Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson — reached the national title game and it appears to be growing by the day. In a game that seemed as if it could pose a strong test for the top seed, the Jayhawks raced out of the gates with great energy and buried the Huskies early. That start showed exactly where this team’s mindset is at this point in the season and their comments in the locker room after both games only confirmed it — happy but not satisfied. This team wants more and plans on getting it.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You have to start with KU’s defense, if you ask me. The Jayhawks were so tenacious in that first half that they really took UConn out of its game. The guards harassed the Huskies ball handlers and challenged every shot and the bigs dominated the interior. It was a much more dominating performance than even the stats showed, mostly because the intensity and desire in the faces and body language of the Jayhawks does not show up on the stat sheet. These guys flat-out got after it and never gave UConn a real chance.
2 – Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis carried the load offensively, but junior big man Landen Lucas was as good, if not better, than both of them. Lucas absolutely dominated the glass — helping lead KU to a 44-24 rebounding advantage — and played as big as he has all season long. Lucas’ strong effort hardly came as a surprise and was mostly a continuation of a strong run of solid games in the second half of the season. Lucas’ 6 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks were way bigger in this game than any of those numbers actually sound.
3 – All right. Enough. How about that one-handed, hammer dunk by Wayne Selden? Shades of Tyshawn Taylor to Thomas Robinson against Baylor in the Fieldhouse right there. So good. So emphatic. And such a perfect exclamation point on a solid KU win.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – There’s no two ways about it, Frank Mason had a rough night. And it wasn’t just that he missed seven of the eight shots he took. He also looked sloppy with the ball and too often turned it over in a manner that led to easy transition points for the Huskies. Mason was still key to KU’s victory (he added five boards, four assists and a 6-of-6 clip from the free throw line) but his shot looked slow and uncertain out of his hand and when he drove, he did so with a lot of action that too often seemed to get him nowhere. That might have just been an indication of how quick UConn’s guards were, but KU’s going to need Mason to be better if it wants to keep advancing.
2 – It’s a bit inevitable that a 20-point halftime lead is going to get cut into at some point during a college basketball game. Rarely do you see a team with that big of a lead at the break add to the lead in the second half. Espeically when playing a good team. So it’s not the fact that UConn trimmed the Jayhawks lead to nine that was a concern, rather the way it happened. Connecticut’s pressure bothered the Jayhawks and KU momentarily unraveled because of it.
3 – Two nights after Jayhawks got a huge night from their bench, the KU reserves gave next to nothing against UConn. A big part of that was the lack of opportunity for the bench to contribute. KU’s starters all played 32 minutes or more and Self only dished out 29 combined bench minutes to four different players. In that time, only Carlton Bragg (2 points on 2 offensive rebounds in 4 minutes) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (1 point in 6 minutes) managed to score. The best bench contribution came from Jamari Traylor, who, in 10 minutes, blocked three shots and grabbed a pair of rebounds.
One for the road
KU’s 12-point victory over UConn on Saturday included the following notable performances...
• Frank Mason: Went 6-for-6 at the free throw line and is now 11-for-12 at the charity stripe during NCAA postseason play this season.
• Wayne Selden: After a 22-point effort on Saturday, Selden is averaging 18.0 points during the NCAA Championship this season. He entered the postseason with 10 total points in his first four NCAA postseason games.
• Devonte' Graham: One of three Jayhawks in double figures, scoring 13 on 4-of-8 shooting.
• Landen Lucas: Grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds with three blocks as KU's biggest force in holding UConn to zero second-chance points.
• Perry Ellis: Now has 1,767 career points to enter the top-10 on KU's all-time scoring list. Ellis passed Kirk Hinrich (2000-03; 1,753) with a three-pointer at the 4:08 mark of the first half, which gave KU a 38-16 lead. Ellis has tallied six 20-point scoring efforts in the last seven games and has scored 100 points in five postseason games this season on 61 percent shooting from the field.
• Jamari Traylor: Recorded three blocks and now totals 125 career blocks.
The Jayhawks will move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013. Next week, they head to Louisville, where they will take on the winner of the second-round match-up between No. 5 seed Maryland and No. 13 seed Hawaii (6:10 p.m. Sunday) in the regional semifinals next Thursday night. Game time is yet to be determined.
— See what people were saying about Kansas vs. UConn during KUsports.com's live coverage
More news and notes from KU’s win over UConn
- On to the next round: Jayhawks show swag in tourney win over UConn
- Keegan: Lucas and Traylor closing the lane on defense
- Husky wants best for Jayhawk pal Selden
- Self likes Jayhawks’ feisty attitude
- Notebook: Ellis fine after bumping knee
- Moving on: Jayhawks get back to Sweet 16 with win over UConn
- Keegan Ratings: Selden wows as Kansas moves on in NCAAs