Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Notebook: KU freshman Ochai Agbaji shines in starting debut, scoring team-high 24 points

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) scores past Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) scores past Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


Austin, Texas — After strong efforts in five of the six games he had played since taking off his redshirt a few weeks ago to help this evolving Kansas basketball team, freshman Ochai Agbaji cracked the starting lineup during Tuesday night’s 73-63 loss at Texas.

Starting in place of senior Lagerald Vick — a move that KU coach Bill Self called “a coach’s decision” — Agbaji hit 8 of 10 shots, grabbed 7 rebounds and finished with a team-high 24 points in 35 high-energy minutes.

Never one to brag on his own play, Agbaji, who learned he would start two days ago during a film session, said he played fine but seemed more concerned about the loss taken by his team.

His teammates, however, were much happier to sing his praises, a silver lining of sorts after another game gone wrong on the road for Kansas.

“He had 24,” leading scorer Dedric Lawson said of his young teammate. “This is a guy who was redshirting at one point. You’ve got to applaud him no matter what the outcome was of the game.”

Asked what aspect of his game he liked the most on Tuesday, Lawson jumped right in with his answer.

“His offensive rebounds,” he said. “He gets in there and gets us easy baskets. Things like that.”

Texas coach Shaka Smart also sounded somewhat amazed by Agbaji’s performance, which looked far different from the 4-point, 4-rebound, 25-minute game he had against Smart’s Longhorns on Jan. 14.

“Agbaji was terrific,” Smart said of the KU guard who has a sister who plays volleyball at Texas. “It’s amazing that (a few) weeks ago he was redshirting.”

Slow to move on

Throughout last Saturday’s postgame meeting with the media after their 8-point, road loss to Kentucky, the Jayhawks talked about moving on quickly and not dwelling on the outcome of that game, which meant little in the big picture of the team’s season.

So, how’d they do?

“I would say average,” Self said of both Tuesday night’s game and the days leading up to it. “I don’t think we’ve been poor by any stretch, but I don’t think we’ve been great. When you lose, it should really piss you off. And sometimes, when it doesn’t do that, you’re kind of too comfortable sometimes with accepting what happened. I don’t think we accepted what happened, but I don’t think we’ve had the same mindset to fight that maybe some of the teams in the past have had.

“To me, this was a much bigger game than the Kentucky game, but the Kentucky game probably didn’t allow us to be as good as I would’ve wished, but that’s such a soft statement by a coach because didn’t Texas lose at Georgia (last Saturday)? So I’m not buying that.”

Added Agbaji: “I don’t think we responded like we thought we would. Like coach said in the locker room, though, tomorrow’s a new day and we just have to look forward to Texas Tech.”

Pressure a bright spot

With Kansas trailing by 11 (58-47) with 3:37 to play and the reality of the situation quickly setting in, Self went with a full-court press that gave the Jayhawks a shot.

Although KU never closed within fewer than 4 during that frantic race to the finish, the pressure did force Texas into a few turnovers and allowed Kansas to extend the game while cutting into the lead at the same time.

Had the Longhorns not been nearly perfect from the free throw line during that stretch, there’s no telling what might have happened.

“Honestly, I thought our guys did a great job with the pressure late,” Self said. “Dedric should’ve fouled Jaxson (Hayes) when he had the dunk (that put Texas up 65-58). He just should’ve fouled him. But they didn’t miss any free throws so he probably would’ve made them both any way. But I thought we did a nice job with that.”

After committing 4 turnovers and forcing just 6 in the first meeting between these two teams, Kansas forced 12 turnovers and gave it away 13 times on Tuesday.

This and that...

Kansas now leads the all-time series with Texas, 32-9... The Jayhawks are 5-3 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2015-16 season and just the second time in Self’s 16 seasons at Kansas... The Jayhawks have now lost consecutive games for the second season in a row (vs. Washington and vs. Arizona State in 2017-18)... Kansas is now 5-5 this season in games played away from Allen Fieldhouse, 1-5 in true road games, 1-0 at Sprint Center and 3-0 in neutral court settings.


Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 10 months ago

Had Garrett and Grimes scored those misses, we could've won the game easily. Ochai is just warming up. He will contribute consistently from now on.

[''] 3 years, 10 months ago

Vick shouldn't start the rest of the year - and play less. Can't dribble, doesn't play D, sh%t attitude - all he is is a streaky 3 pt shooter. Pathetic.

Robert Brock 3 years, 10 months ago

KU’s offense should be called “Concrete Shoes.” No movement. No back cuts. No open shots. No scoring. Wheeeeeeeee!

3 years, 10 months ago

how does bill feel knowing the guy he redshirted is completely dominating his * gold medalist in every, single aspect of the game now?! glad he swallowed his pride & went zone 2nd half or theyda beaten us by 30. vick shouldnt start again this season. ochai is the Man-Everything self wants outta his guys.. more games to play, tho..

Nathan Scholl 3 years, 10 months ago

Does anyone else feel that Ochai is the only player on this team that actually cares, shows emotion, or gets upset when the Hawks are losing? The post game comments from our other starters are all so ho-hum. It seems like none of the players have any pride for the uniform and could care less if we win or lose. It's hard to see a Kansas team that has no pride or emotion. Coach Self doesn't even really seem that concerned lately. I'll always have faith in coach Self, but has he just given up on this team being competitive or does he just have to act supersensitive with them because they are all immature? Vick should definitely not start ever again. Rock Chalk through thick and thin, we are spoiled as fans, no doubt, but it's hard to watch right now.

Eliott Reeder 3 years, 10 months ago

I understand that Coach was trying to motivate Vick, but I still think Grimes should be the one sitting, not LaGerald. Start Agbaji over Grimes FFS. Grimes may come around eventually, but he is not the one right now. Also annoyed that Self hasn't played McCormack more. He should have been playing big minutes way back when AZ was out with the ankle injury. He would be so much better with 2X the game experience. Oh well, still holding out that this team will figure out how to play with passion and purpose. We may be that team that surprises in the tournament. I still think we could beat anyone in the country on the right day, if we're hitting shot and actually playing hard.

[''] 3 years, 10 months ago

NOT! Grimes plays D. Grimes rebounds and hustles. Vick only hustles when he's trying to get the ball to shoot. Sure he had some good games one-dimensionally with pts - you take his points away like he's been doing lately - and he's a huge liability on the floor. At this point I'd start Moore before Vick.

Allin Herring 3 years, 10 months ago

Seems like when our offense worked as little,as it,did against Texas it was when our worst 9ffensive player was on the bench and we had another big in the game. Yes we did much better in the game when Garrett was sitting. He can not play the four and has the worst jump shot I had ever seen in a college player. When he is in Self needs to have a rule Garrett can take no jump shots. I am not sure McCormack is the answer but a combo of,him and Lightfoot may be a better option than Garrett

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