Chicago — It’s no secret that Kansas coach Bill Self likes to play through his big men.
Always has. Always will.
But it might have come as a bit of a surprise that Self elected to do that so late in Friday’s 66-61 win over fourth-seeded Providence at United Center.
Throughout Friday’s victory, Kansas big man David McCormack was mostly ineffective. He struggled to score and rebound early and coughed up three turnovers while shooting 2-of-5 from the floor by the final buzzer.
He also looked a step slow and lacked explosiveness around the rim on both ends.
“David struggled tonight,” Self said after the victory. “I didn't think he rebounded the ball or defended his position very well early. And he had a couple of touches in there we came away with nothing that could have been points.”
Still, with Kansas leading by just four points late — in a game the Jayhawks once led by 13, no less — Self called for his guards to throw the ball into McCormack to at least get things started on a few key offensive possessions.
McCormack didn’t exactly light the world on fire during that stretch, but he did do enough with his physical presence to help Kansas stave off an unexpected surge by back-up Providence big man Ed Croswell midway through the second half.
With Croswell bullying his way to seven consecutive Providence points during a 2-minute stretch to pull the Friars within five (37-32) with 11:36 to play, it became evident that the Jayhawks had no answer for the 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior when he got the ball at point blank range in the paint.
From there, it was one of those if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em situations for the Jayhawks (31-6). Eventually, Croswell slowed down. But throwing the ball into McCormack and trying to re-establish a presence in the paint helped Kansas survive the Friars’ threat of taking control of the game.
“We wouldn't have won the game without him,” Self said of McCormack, who got to the free throw line a couple of times late and hit four of six charity shots overall.
Bothered by a foot injury throughout the season, McCormack continues to look like a guy who is playing at less than 100%. He and Self have been asked about his foot on multiple occasions during the past several weeks and both continue to say it’s fine. Sore, but fine.
And there’s not a soul alive who thinks that McCormack is going to start worrying about it now, with his team one win away from reaching the Final Four. According to their coach, the Jayhawks might not be in that position if not, in some small part, for the play of their big man on Friday night.
“At the end of the day he delivered for us when it counted,” Self said. “So it's not how you start, it's how you finish.”
Next up for McCormack and the top-seeded Jayhawks is a 1:20 p.m. tipoff on Sunday against No. 10 seed Miami (Fla.) at United Center. The winner punches its ticket to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Here's a look at our coverage from the Windy City so far: