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Kansas defeats TCU, 75-62

  • 6 p.m., March 11, 2022
  • T-Mobile Center,

Friday, March 11, 2022

Agbaji’s lob, Lightfoot’s spark help No. 6 Kansas cruise past TCU, into Big 12 title game

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) brings down a thunderous dunk over TCU guard Micah Peavy (0) during the second half on Friday, March 11, 2022 at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) brings down a thunderous dunk over TCU guard Micah Peavy (0) during the second half on Friday, March 11, 2022 at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.

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Kansas City, Mo. — In the moment, Kansas senior Mitch Lightfoot’s face left little doubt as to how he felt about teammate Ochai Agbaji’s gravity-defying, one-hand slam that served as the exclamation point on sixth-ranked Kansas’ 75-62 Big 12 semifinal win over TCU.

Eyes wide, mouth agape, his stunned smile and eyes slightly squinted, Lightfoot, like thousands of other basketball fans inside T-Mobile Center on Friday night, clearly could not believe what he just had seen.

Roughly an hour later, Lightfoot’s perspective on the Agbaji dunk had not changed a bit.

“Insane,” Lightfoot said, eyes still bulging from his head. “He might be the highest jumper off of lobs I think I’ve ever seen. Like, it’s insane. Incredible.”

Here’s the funny thing about Agbaji’s high-flying act on Friday night. Earlier in the game, when he was whistled for an over the back foul on the offensive glass after a KU miss, Agbaji spent some time trying to explain to the officials that he actually jumped over the guy. If only the dunk had come before that, they might have believed him.

The highlight of the night — if not the year — came off of an inbounds pass under the basket from point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. and put Kansas up 69-50 with 7:42 to play. It set off a full-on party from the floor to the bench to the heavily-pro-Kansas crowd that even would have made Wayne Selden’s uncle Anthony proud.

Fifth-seeded TCU had not been close to Kansas since early in the first half, and the Frogs never really threatened after the dunk. So, it was fitting that the Kansas City kid, who has proven time and again this season that he was worthy of the title of best player in the Big 12, was the one who unofficially put the game away.

Even more fitting was the way both Agbaji and Kansas coach Bill Self reacted to the dazzling dunk while discussing it after the victory.

“It kind of happened so fast it didn’t really set in until I was just sitting there at half court and everyone was just going crazy,” a beaming Agbaji said from the podium. “I just watched the replay of it (in the locker room) and it was crazy. So that was a really good pass by Juan.”

Self agreed, while deadpanning, “We’ve run it a few times.”

One of those times came Thursday, in KU’s 24-point quarterfinal win over West Virginia.

“And Juan didn’t throw it,” Self said. “I got onto him pretty good for not throwing it. (Agbaji) was more open yesterday than today, but Juan gave a perfect pass and then, of course, Och made a pretty good finish.”

Up to that point, in what turned out to be a runaway win for a Kansas team closing in on a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament, the highlight of the game had come from Lightfoot.

Not only did the sixth-year senior show off another strong offensive game in the paint, but he also reminded everyone that he had a little range, as well. His 3-pointer from the top of the key that made the KU lead 63-45 came on his first attempt of the season and was the 13th 3-point make of his career.

While Kansas fans bantered about over which was the bigger highlight on social media platforms, Lightfoot’s answer ended the debate.

“His lob for sure,” he said. “Are you kidding me? Anybody can hit a 3. But I don’t think anybody else can jump to 12 and a half feet in the air and dunk that.”

That didn’t make Lightfoot’s night — or shot — any less impressive.

The senior from Gilbert, Arizona, finished the night with a career-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, showing off his hook shot down low and providing Kansas with a significant offensive presence from the 5 spot throughout the night.

“Mitch has become an offensive weapon for us,” Self said after Friday’s win.

Feeling brave after drilling his first 3-point attempt, Lightfoot pulled another one, from almost the same spot, later in the game, but it missed off the back iron.

Lightfoot said the idea to pull the trigger came from a Thursday night conversation with his father, Matt, who said simply, “Why don’t you just shoot one; they don’t ever guard you? And I was like, ‘Eh, might as well.’ I was feeling it.”

While KU’s offense certainly put on the kind of show Kansas fans have come to expect in this environment, it was the Jayhawks’ defense that gave them the freedom to do so.

From the start, KU’s in-your-face, harassing pressure on the ball forced the Horned Frogs to retreat rather than attack and kept TCU from comfortably finding its way into anything it wanted to do offensively.

After taking a 10-9 lead on a 3-pointer from Chrisitan Braun, the Jayhawks forced a series of TCU miscues on four consecutive possessions.

First was a travel by TCU guard Micah Peavy. That was followed by back-to-back shot-clock violations and Damion Baugh stepping out of bounds in front of the Kansas bench with one second showing on the shot clock on the fourth possession.

“Our first-shot defense today was great,” Lightfoot said. “That’s a tribute to the guards. Those guys were so turned up on defense.”

That stretch, along with 56% shooting on the offensive end through the game’s first 10 minutes — and 63% for the first half as a whole — helped Kansas build a 21-12 lead.

More importantly, it brought the pro-Kansas T-Mobile Center crowd fully into the action.

Nine of KU’s points, from 10 to 21, came from significantly different players on drastically different plays.

Picking up where he left off in the quarterfinal win over West Virginia, Lightfoot connected on his first two jump hooks of the night on back-to-back possessions.

Agbaji then followed with the first of his two lob dunks in the sequence. The first, off of a sweet pass by Remy Martin (10 points on 10 shots with three assists in 19 minutes), was a rim-rattler that energized the crowd. The second, on a slightly underthrown pass from Christian Braun, featured Agbaji barely getting a hand on it but watching the ball fall through the net as he came down.

Agbaji hit the free throw that followed and Kansas led 21-12.

TCU cut the KU lead to 21-16 with back-to-back buckets after Agbaji’s high-flying act. But a 13-3 KU run blew the game open after David McCormack connected at the free throw line, Agbaji hit a couple of jumpers and Joe Yesufu drained a 3-pointer from the wing.

Later in the half, with KU leading by 17, Braun’s rejection of a pull-up jumper by TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. led to another TCU shot-clock violation on one end and Lightfoot’s third jump hook of the half on the other.

While Self was thrilled with his team’s start and defensive intensity early for the second game in a row, he said he thought the Jayhawks “caught a break” in facing a TCU team that had to expend so much energy to come back from 20 points down to beat Texas on Thursday night.

“I thought that was the difference early,” Self said. “But I thought our defensive intensity was better than in the other two games (against TCU this season). Especially in the first half.”

KU led 44-30 at halftime after leading by as many as 19 late in the first half before extending to a game-high of 22 (75-53) late in the second half before TCU hit a few shots late to set the final margin.

Friday’s win puts Kansas back in the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 2018, when the Jayhawks topped West Virginia in the title game during their most recent Final Four season.

KU will be playing in its 15th Big 12 Conference title game in 25 years of Big 12 tourneys and its 23rd conference title game of any kind.

Top-seeded Kansas will face the winner of the second semifinal game between No. 3 seed Texas Tech and No. 7 seed Oklahoma at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

Comments

Barry Weiss 3 months, 3 weeks ago

wow! Great effort from our bench. Mitch and Remy lit it up! We've appeared to turn the corner since that two loss streak. Turnovers are way down. Let's go Jayhawks!!

Mallory Briggans 3 months, 3 weeks ago

When Remy in limited minutes outscores Braun that is not a good sign .

Bryce Landon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Great to see Mitch and Remy making positive contributions off the bench, and great to see Ochai provide a SportsCenter Top 10 play. On the flip side, I can see TCU getting into SportsCenter's Not Top 10 by picking up a stupid technical foul when they had six players on the court. Our first two Big 12 Tournament opponents have provided me no shortage of amusement with their technical difficulties, LOL!

On to the finals!

Bryce Landon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

You know what else is great? Both of our "rivals" are making coaching changes. K-State has to replace Bruce Weber, and Mizzou has to replace Cuonzo Martin. And we owned them this season, scoring 102 on both of them in Allen Fieldhouse and coming from down 17 to break the Mildcats' hearts.

Dirk Medema 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Someone complained a week ago when as OA had an off night, ignoring the fact that it opened up things enough that his teammates had a triple double double. I’ve not heard of that ever happening before.

Getting double figures from 2 bench players is phenomenal. Loved how Coach went to the bench early and often today. It might just be the thought of 3 games in 3 days, but hopefully it is also giving him a little more confidence in the bench.

Also loved that one of the shot clock violations was when Mr D-liability was in the game. Even better than Mitch making 3s.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I watched today's game via ESPN+ backboard camera. I Loved it. The only down side was you can see Remy for the entire court. Seeing the play develop and the way the players ran their sets Remy stood out repeatedly due to his lack of understanding how to play team defense. He was missing assignments, being totally confused and not just a liability, but the exact reason they were able to score because he messed up almost every time down the floor. I particularly liked the possession where he had no idea who to guard, throwing his hands up asking where do I go to the coaches. He wandered around like a lost kid in a grocery store. He ended up in the lane, guarding no one and watched with awe when the shot went right over his head for a basket. All the way down the court asking who he was supposed to guard. Or the time he sagged so far he got under the basket and the ball hit him in the back.

So Dirk calling him a liability was a gross understatement. He just plain sucks on defense. The reason we had shot clock violations were not because of him, those happened in spite of him. He is god awful on defense. Let me put it a in way you might understand - he belongs on the bench with the scrubs keeping the water bottles full. When he was hurt we played better defense.

It is always nice to see you have every players back, regardless of not objectively watching the game. Are you for participation trophies? - Asking for a friend.

Barry Weiss 3 months, 3 weeks ago

good grief, it sounds like Remy is living rent free in your head. Get a grip man, he does alot of positive things. He outscored most of our starters in a scant 12 minutes. Lighten up.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi Barry, maybe we have not met, I'm Rodney. I like facts, realism, and the truth.

In the few times Remy has played well on offense for us this year, he has always sucked on defense. Tonight. especially, he was the weak link. It did not cost us the game, but it does not change the fact that he was terrible.

If you get ESPN+ watch tonights game from the Backboard camera. It takes a few minutes to get used to it, but it is a great way to watch the game. You will see what I am talking about.

Darrel Stice 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm a realist as well, Rodney, and I've had more than my share of concerns with Remy's defense and all around fit with this team. His offense is is amazing but it looks like he's always freelancing. His ability to create is off the charts good and he's lightning quick, but he doesn't seem to ever be running anything coach sets up for the team. However, yesterday we were +3 with him on the floor so he didn't hurt us.

Moving forward, I think he'll gel a bit better with the team and his experience and skillset could really help us in the big dance. Rock Chalk!!

David Friend 3 months, 3 weeks ago

no I said we cant win when ochai shoots 4-17..

Steve Zimmerman 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Coach should keep DMac rested - clearly, that works out very very well. With sore foot, I don't think DMac should play more than 10 minutes. Even in the tournament. Let him heal. Lightfoot is a great sub. Coach should know it by now. What a great win - the best our bench players have played so far. That 1st half, was the best D our team has ever played this season. Forcing like 4-5 clock violation in a half.. that's crazy!!! Good thing Juan didn't miss the chance to throw that lob like yesterday!! A great win tonight. Let's keep the high octane scoring rolling, stingy D suffocating TTU (or whoever, who cares) players. Let's match their D with our constant, as Matt best described it: " in-your-face, harassing pressure" tomorrow. ROCK CHALK!!!!!

Tony Bandle 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Bryce, Dirk, Mallory, Rodney......can anybody help me out. I think our record at the Sprint Center is pretty good. Can anyone give me the latest win/loss numbers at this venue.

I'm guessing that our overall historic numbers in Kansas City as a whole are pretty good as well but probably not available.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Everything I see is dated 2015, 2017. This site in 2015, KC Star in 17. Those lists were around 80% wins.

There were a lot of empty seats in the TECH game. It is Allen East no doubt.

Bryce Landon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

It's T-Mobile Center now, but that's okay. And I couldn't tell you what our record there is off the top of my head.

Matt Tait 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Hey Tony - KU is 45-10 all-time at Sprint/T-Mobile Center. Not bad.

Tony Bandle 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks, Matt as always.

I agree...not a bad "home away from home". :)

Rodney Crain 3 months, 3 weeks ago

One of the best games we have played this season. Ranks right up there with Baylor at home. Tech looked beatable.

I am very glad OU is leaving, their coach is really good.

Mallory Briggans 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Remy gets a lot grief for his defense ........he was never touted for his defense it was his scoring that he made a name for himself ...........it was noted that he was a defensive liability but the +/- metric used show that the team was + 3 with him on the floor which was the same as Braun . My concern isnt Remys defense because he a 10+ minute player I'm more concerned with Braun and his offensive digression during Big 12 play, he had 9 today 11 against WVU and took only 8 shots ..............Wilson and Ochai are getting shots up Braun needs to be more aggressive on offense. When Remy is on the bench because of his defense that doesnt hurt the team ,when Braun is on floor and he is not scoring that doesnt help the team, so if we want to complain about Remys defense then we cant look the other way when Braun isnt scoring.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree. Braun is finding other ways to contribute when his shot is not falling. His rebounding is helping. I bet Self is telling him to keep looking for his shots.

Joshua Tate 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Aside from the occasional charge he draws, Remy is a complete liability on defense. However, if he can give Dajuan rest while adding 10+ points and 3+ assists in limited minutes, it can offset his limitations on the other side of the ball. Having a solid bench PG is crucial for those endgame situations when we need our starter to have enough energy to make a play. Remy is heating up and this is a good thing for KU's NCAA tournament chances.

Braun having a successful outing isn't predicated on him scoring large amounts. If he's still getting 6-10 boards and a few assists, steals, or blocks, that's a win for the team.

Rock Chalk!

Micky Baker 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Anyone as surprised as I am that Texas and Baylor were eliminated early in this tourney? Tonight is a big game for the conference. KU needs to match Tech's intensity for 40 minutes and make it clear why KU was the one seed.

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