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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot logging valuable minutes and delivering for Kansas

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot

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If you've been following Kansas basketball for any length of time during the past couple of decades, you probably know that KU coach Bill Self is just as likely to criticize a player as he is to heap praise on him.

Such a reality comes with the territory and is a big part of the reason Self gets so much out of his players year after year. His demands are high, his expectations are even greater and if one his players is not cutting it, they — and likely the rest of the college basketball world — are going to know about it.

That's what makes the current run by sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot so impressive.

Monday night, during the Jayhawks' 70-56 victory over Kansas State in Manhattan, Lightfoot played 19 crucial minutes to help the Jayhawks win their seventh straight game over the Wildcats and move to 7-2 in Big 12 play.

Lightfoot had played more minutes on four previous occasions, scored more points 15 times before and grabbed more rebounds three different times during the Jayhawks' first 21 games.

But in none of those games was Lightfoot's role quite what it was against the Wildcats and Self was happy to point that out after the victory.

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Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) takes a charge from Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

“I think he's been great,” said Self of Lightfoot, who went scoreless but grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots on a night when KU big man Udoka Azubuike struggled to do either. “I hate to pick on 'Dok, but he was a total non-factor, defensively, rebounding, everything. I thought Mitch, you know, he didn't score, but three blocks and three offensive rebounds. I think Mitch is playing great.”

Like a well-worn tire that needed to rotate for a certain number of miles before really gripping the road, Lightfoot has played three of the best games of his still-young Kansas career during the past two weeks.

Asked if something in particular had clicked for him during his second January with the Jayhawks, the always-honest sophomore forward pointed to finding his place as the answer.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “Just understanding what I need to do for this team to be good, understand my role and embrace it. I might not need to score as many points as some of the guys on the team, but if they need me on defense, that's what I'm going to do.

“I feel like for everyone there's a point in time where it's like, 'OK, I'm buying in.' I've always kind of been bought in, but I just recommitted myself to what this team needed me to do and the way coach needed me to play.”

Lightfoot's biggest contribution to Monday's victory undoubtedly came on defense. And it was not in the form of his three blocks that made an already rough offensive night for K-State even more miserable.

Instead, a pair of charges taken by Lightfoot — both on a driving Barry Brown Jr. — gave KU a lift at crucial moments.

“I haven't had one in the last couple games so I had to get my quota back up,” noted Lightfoot after the win. “Just stealing a possession. It really turns the momentum and it helps us get the ball back and maybe get some buckets.”

The first came late in the first half and saddled Brown with his second foul. It also helped preserve a double-digit halftime lead for the Jayhawks.

The second came with just under four minutes to play, with Brown driving to the rim in an attempt to trim KU's lead to single digits for one more Wildcat run.

Although his head hit the floor and he had to head to the bench for a couple of minutes following the second one, Lightfoot was all smiles inside after each stop.

Smiles and confidence never have been an issue for Lightfoot, who on Monday passed Azubuike for the team lead in blocks (36-35).

But now that he's reached his jumping off point and appears to be taking full advantage of the momentum behind it, the sophomore's final words from inside Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night carry with them a little more punch.

“My confidence is pretty high right now,” Lightfoot said with a grin.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Kansas State


By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

Comments

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

I've been surprised by Mitch's progress. When I saw him last year, I didn't see the potential that HCBS must have seen. Now I'm looking forward to seeing how much more Mitch can develop his game in the next couple of years.

Mitch must have realized that defense was his way to get playing time. It took a lot of cojones to step in front of Barry Brown and getting two charging fouls in key moments especially when he had just got called for blocking. He already leads the team in blocks while playing far fewer minutes than the starters.

Now he needs to add some offense to his game to keep getting more minutes.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 8 months ago

Lightfoot in the middle of our zone is an active, ground covering and long armed player. He makes blocks with his quick leaping and not just horizontal either. He has not been fouling as much and as his playing time goes up his development is showing.

This whole team is improving, albeit, at different rates. We were a handful when Vick, Svi and DeVonte were scoring around 60 ppg. Now it's Malik, Svi and DeVonte who make us so. If they hold steady and Vick picks it back up you can imagine us hitting 80+ every game that Dok decides to show up in.

The play Cunliffe scored on was when he was running the floor and had the ball hit him in the head. The other funny (?) one was on the pick and roll with Silvio and DeVonte when Silvio forgot the reason for the roll. They are lost looking and I don't mean just where they are supposed to be but where they are. Hopefully in a couple of weeks this truth will not be so self evident.

Trending up to whatever ceiling it will be.

David Robinett 4 years, 8 months ago

Everybody’s company it seems to be peaking right now with the possible exception of LaGerald.

David Robinett 4 years, 8 months ago

I had the impression that Mitch has been drinking his protein shakes, I E getting Hudy-fied

Mike Riches 4 years, 8 months ago

That's weird that Mitch has more blocks than Dok, who has a lot more minutes and several inches on Mitch. Dok looks like he goes after quite a few shots, I guess he's just not a natural shot-blocker.

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 8 months ago

There is certainly a lot to that. When it comes to blocks, you've either got "it" or you don't. Sure the ones who don't have impeccable timing, form to avoid fouls, speed to get to plays from the weak side, etc. will still get blocks when they are 7ft tall but Mitch is a great example that size isn't the most important factor in blocking shots. Withey was one of the few who had "it" while also being a 7 footer.

Chandler Accipiter 4 years, 8 months ago

If Mitch played for KSU he would be Dean Wade, and vice versa.

Kit Duncan 4 years, 8 months ago

The rules changed the year after Withey graduated. A big reason he was able to get so many blocks was his ability to put a hand on the hip of an opponent who was driving toward the basket, and force him nearly behind the backboard. It reduced the shooter’s angle to the rim and gave Withey position to go up and block the ball, keeping it inbounds. If Azubuike or Lightfoot were to try to “guide” their opponent the same way, they would immediately be called for a foul.

Dok and Mitch are good shot blockers with different abilities in making those blocks. Dok often gets his blocks while fronting his man, while Mitch more often gets his after his man has gone by.

RJ King 4 years, 8 months ago

Truth! Thanks for pointing out the significant differences.

In addition, Dok came late to the party. And with a soccer background, he's still mastering the newfound ability to use hands and arms (hence the struggle with free throws). He's prevailed over injury recovery & rehab, weight training & nutrition, and being on his own in America as a teenager.

Patience people. He is a winner. All things in time.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm not sure I buy into the soccer/free throw explanation but It's as good as any other theory I have heard.

Good info on the change of rules Kit.

Chris DeWeese 4 years, 8 months ago

I had a feeling it would start coming together for Mitch this year. Last year I could see that he would likely become a serviceable shot blocker. Now I see that is one of his best talents. I hope he, along with other players, continue to grow and peak at the right time (March/April). He kinda reminds me of Chris Piper - roughly the same size, asked to do a lot of the same things. I think he's just going to continue to get better.

Eliott Reeder 4 years, 8 months ago

I LOVE MITCH LIGHTFOOT. As I have said before on this site, Lightfoot is better that Azubuike at almost every single aspect of basketball other than dunking the ball (although Doke has definitely improved as a defender recently). I fantasize about a Lightfoot growth spurt. If he were to magically become 6-10, 230 instead of 6-8, 205 he would have serious potential. Natural shot-blocker. Skillful charge-taker. Can hit the three. Decent mid-range jumpshooter. Just all-around solid player that is only lacking in size.

Eliott Reeder 4 years, 8 months ago

I was officially on the Lightfoot bandwagon after this game ^^^

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

Mitch's confidence should be growing. He is a solid player with an attitude to admire. Like Marius, I look forward to seeing his consistent improvement over the next two years. Probably won't be enough to make the NBA, but his prospects overseas should be significant.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 8 months ago

Mitch gets his blocks because he catches them all by surprise that he can jump. (Sorry to all the racially uptight. )

Randy Signor 4 years, 8 months ago

I've liked this kid from the beginning; athletic, a lot of energy, engaged, positive. By the time he's a senior (if not junior), he's gonna be something; and he'll help us big time this season.

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