Salt Lake City — Thursday afternoon inside the Kansas locker room, shortly after the Jayhawks opened their path through the NCAA Tournament with a first-round victory over Northeastern, head coach Bill Self had a question for his players.
“Good job. Hey, guys. One down and how many to go?” Self asked.
A mixture of responses followed, with “five” being the overriding reply.
“One,” Self quickly corrected them, as seen in a video posted on KU’s social media accounts. “One down. One to go. Hey, hey. One down and one to go, OK? All right, good job.”
When it comes to March Madness, Self always prompts his teams to look at each stop along the way as its own, four-team, two-game tournament. If the Jayhawks win the first two-game tournament, they get to go somewhere else and try to win another.
Apparently at least a few players who grew up watching The Big Dance and came to KU with dreams of chasing a national championship got caught up in the moment, knowing six wins is what it takes to cut down the nets at the Final Four.
“That tells you the impact I’ve had on their lives, as far as them paying attention,” Self would joke after the fact.
So who was to blame? Who said five?
“I think I said five,” a smiling Dedric Lawson admitted Friday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, ahead of KU’s second-round matchup with Auburn. “I forgot it was a two-game tournament.”
And with that response, Lawson didn’t hesitate to use the conversation as an opportunity to mess with nearby teammate Charlie Moore, teasingly throwing him under the bus.
“It was really Charlie’s fault. Charlie, he play too much. He’s the one that made me say five,” a grinning Lawson continued. “But we all know it’s a two-game tournament, one game at a time and things like that, so we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
Why was Moore at fault? What did he do?
“He play too much, man,” Lawson replied. “I ain’t even gonna say what he did.”
Learning that Lawson had just placed the blame on him, Moore provided his version of the story.
“That was definitely Dedric. I wasn’t gonna say nothing. But Dedric said five. If you’re listening closely to the video you’ll hear Dedric say it,” the smiling Moore insisted.
With Moore and Lawson cracking themselves up with their accusations, Moore’s assertion continued.
“Everybody said one. Dedric yelled five,” Moore argued. “He over-yelled everybody, ’cause he thought he was right. But he really wasn’t.”
Why did Lawson say it was Moore then?
“I was next to him. I don’t know why he said that,” Moore retorted.
As the allegations flew back and forth, the reactions from David McCormack, sitting in the locker stall between Lawson and Moore, indicated he knew something.
Asked for some insight, McCormack provided his opinion.
“I mean, you can never tell with these two. Between them, Marcus (Garrett), all of them, they all like to joke around,” McCormack said. “Maybe Charlie might have tapped Dedric … I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him, honestly. He probably told him the right answer was five and everybody else said one.”
What was McCormack’s response to Self’s question?
“I took the smart route and I didn’t say anything. I just whispered to myself,” the freshman big explained, “and said one after the fact. So right or wrong, I just didn’t get called out.”
Whomever was to blame, McCormack said Lawson was “by far” the loudest to give the incorrect answer. But he wasn’t sure if there were others on Team Five.
“I just know I was standing next to Dedric, so he definitely said five,” McCormack said.
Surely veteran Mitch Lightfoot didn’t fail Self’s postgame locker room test, right?
“I don’t know what I said, to be honest,” Lightfoot claimed. “I’m not gonna self-incriminate, either. The next time he asks, we’ll be locked in on one.”
Of course, in order to do that the Jayhawks will have to get past Auburn on Saturday night.
“We’ve got to lock in for our second game of this one,” Lightfoot said, “and hopefully get to the next one.”
You can’t knock any of KU’s players for having large scale goals this time of year. The vibe the Jayhawks gave off in their locker room was one of confidence. They believe in themselves and their ability to make a deep run.
The incorrect “five” response that popped to the front of some players’ minds allowed them to have some fun along the way, too. But they all understand the crux of Self’s one down, one to go message.
“You can’t win five games if you don’t win one game,” Lightfoot said. “Slight issue.”
Lagerald Vick’s borderline ludicrous 3-point shooting over the course of the Kansas basketball team’s previous five games had the Jayhawks ranked seventh in the country in long-distance accuracy (43.9 percent) entering the week.
Those numbers notwithstanding, on the eve of KU’s seventh game, a home matchup with Wofford, Bill Self wasn’t buying the idea that he’s currently coaching an entire group of effective 3-point shooters.
“It’s so misleading, because Lagerald’s shooting 60 something,” Self said, referencing the senior guard’s 28-for-47 success rate (59.6 percent).
The 16th-year Kansas coach, in fact, was more than aware of the disparity in his team’s 3-point shooting.
Speaking with reporters inside Allen Fieldhouse Monday, Self couldn’t recall the exact number — “I know it’s single figures,” he stated correctly — but he pointed out the rest of the roster had barely contributed to KU’s total of 37 made 3-pointers in the past five games.
Jayhawks not named Vick, in that stretch, accounted for just nine 3-pointers, while the senior guard from Memphis made 28.
Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett (1-for-6 in that span) made one 3-pointer versus Marquette. So did junior forward Dedric Lawson (1-for-5 on 3’s in KU’s past five games).
Charlie Moore (2-for-11 during Vick’s 3-fest) made one against Vermont and one vs. Tennessee.
Freshman guard Quentin Grimes (3-for-12 since going 6-for-10 in the opener against Michigan State) hit two against Vermont and one vs. Louisiana.
KU’s other first-year backcourt starter, Devon Dotson (2-for-5 from 3-point range since his 3-for-5 showing vs. Michigan State) knocked down one in the Vermont game and another against Tennessee.
Sophomore guard K.J. Lawson and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot both attempted one 3-pointer since the opener without making one.
Overall, the rest of the team combined to shoot 9-for-41 (22 percent) in wins over Vermont, Louisiana, Marquette, Tennessee and Stanford while Vick rained in 3-pointers.
“That shows you a lot,” Self said of the disparity. “That we’re fortunate that we have the record we have, but also I think when other guys start seeing the ball go in the hole I think it’ll definitely change our team.”
It’s safe to say No. 2 KU (6-0) would benefit from another player or two stepping up and becoming a consistent 3-point shooting option so Vick doesn’t have to do all the work in that department.
“Yeah, I do agree with that,” Garrett said. “But with the way he’s shooting right now he’s not missing. He’s basically carrying the slack for everyone else. I think down the road we could use a couple more guys knocking in some 3’s like he is.”
So who are the top candidates to fill that role?
Without hesitation, Garrett named redshirt sophomore point guard Moore and freshman shooting guard Grimes.
Self, too, brought up those two names first when presented with the same question.
“Charlie’s made two this year,” Self said with a grin. “Charlie and Q, you’d think, would be the ones, and then Dedric needs to be a guy that can stretch it. He’s only made, I think, one this year, if I’m not mistaken. One or two.”
Indeed, Lawson is 1-for-7 from beyond the arc through six games. A surprising statistic, as Self pointed out, considering Lawson shot 4-for-4 in one exhibition against Washburn and 2-for-4 in the other preseason warmup, against Emporia State.
“We know we have capable guys,” Self said. “But they just haven’t had success knocking them down yet.”
KU’s 3-point Shooting Through 6 Games
Lagerald Vick — 28-for-47 (59.6%)
Quentin Grimes — 9-for-22 (40.9%)
Devon Dotson — 5-for-10 (50%)
Charlie Moore — 2-for-12 (16.7%)
K.J. Lawson — 1-for-2 (50%)
Marcus Garrett — 1-for-6 (16.7%)
Dedric Lawson — 1-for-7 (14.3%)
Mitch Lightfoot — 0-for-1 (0%)
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 87-81 overtime win over Tennessee Friday night at the NIT Season Tip-Off, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As is now tradition, Lagerald Vick (15 points) opened the game by knocking down a 3-pointer. But the Jayhawks didn’t rely too heavily on their long range looks.
It wasn’t always pretty, and Tennessee’s interior defense at times made it downright difficult, but KU made sure to get the ball inside as often as it could. By the midway point of the first half, 14 of the Jayhawks’ 18 points had come in the paint. They shot 48 percent in the first half, scoring 22 points inside. By the end of the 45-minute NIT final that went to OT, KU out-scored the Volunteers 48-40 in the paint.
Turnovers plagued much of KU’s opening 20 minutes, though, making it difficult for for the No. 2 team in the country to create any separation, despite a dismal shooting start for the Vols, who missed their first eight 3-point attempts.
Kansas turned the ball over on nine of its first 28 possessions. The Jayhawks finished with nine giveaways in the first half and 16 on the night.
After halftime, KU shot 52% from the floor and turned the ball over seven times.
The Jayhawks finished 22-for-34 on free throws.
Tennessee only made 5 of its first 20 field goals as KU got off to a promising defensive start. Then the Vols settled in. They made 8 of 13 to close the first half, allowing them to enter halftime up 33-31.
KU wasn’t imposing defensively in the first half, but KU limited its top-5 foe to 39.4% shooting before intermission. Mitch Lightfoot provided the team’s only block and Quentin Grimes the only steal before the break.
Tennessee got even more comfortable in the opening minutes of the second half. The Vols had two dunks, two layups and a 3-pointer, allowing them to grow their lead to as many as nine points before the 14:00 mark.
The No. 5 Vols shot 7-for-27 on 3-pointers and 41.3 percent from the floor.
An undersized forward, Grant Williams gave Kansas problems with his 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Occasionally Udoka Azubuike (nine points, four turnovers, four rebounds, in 17 minutes) was too tall and powerful for the Volunteers to handle. At other junctures he didn’t look comfortable when Tennessee ran at him with double teams or fronted him in the post. The 7-footer picked up his second personal foul with more than 8 minutes left in the first half, so he only logged 8 first-half minutes, scoring 6 points along the way.
Azubuike got whistled for foul No. 3 in the opening minute of the second half, but Bill Self left Azubuike on the court. The big man then drew his fourth foul with more than 16 minutes left. He fouled out with 4:26 to go in regulation and the game tied at 61, while going after an offensive rebound.
Junior forward Dedric Lawson (24 points, team-best 13 rebounds and five assists) was at his best when asserting himself, scoring three layups in the first half, when he also dished three assists.
With Azubuike hampered by foul issues, Kansas needed Lawson to give the offense some sense of normalcy and confidence down the home stretch. After the junior center fouled out, Lawson’s drive and jump-hook in the paint gave KU a 65-64 lead with 2:50 left.
Lawson missed a difficult, contested 2-point jumper from the right corner at the end of regulation, but more than made up for it in the five-minute overtime period with a tip-in early and a transition jam late the extended KU’s margin to seven.
Day by day, Devon Dotson’s beginning to realize how effective he can be in the open floor. The freshman point guard, within the first five minutes, had pushed to score a layup for himself in transition and get KU another fast-break bucket on a lob to Azubuike.
Dotson (17 points) came through in a big way in the opening minutes of the second half, too, nailing an open 3-pointer from the left corner and taking off after securing a defensive rebound to score another fast-break lay-in. The Jayhawks would have been in serious trouble without his contributions. Dotson scored 10 points in the second half.
A tough drive on a fast break in overtime from the freshman turned into a layup, foul and free throw for Dotson, and pushed KU’s lead to 74-69.
Grimes (five points, four rebounds) looked disappointed in his play a few times, with a 1-for-4 shooting night and an occasional defensive lapse, such as overpursuing on a denial, allowing Admiral Schofield (21 points) to easily cut backdoor for a layup.
Vick went through much of the night ineffective on offense, after his early 3-pointer. But he tied the game at 56 with 7:24 left after missing his previous three from deep. That ignited the senior guard from Memphis and he hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to give KU a 59-56 lead at the 6:47 mark. The lead grew to five when Vick drained another jumper, this one a 2-pointer, on the next trip down the floor.
In crunch time, Vick drove in from the top of the key for a go-ahead layup, 67-66. In overtime, he threw a lob to Lawson off a pick and roll for a five-point Kansas lead.
Down their sixth man, Marcus Garrett, who was kept out of the lineup due to concussion-like symptoms, the Jayhawks didn’t have the support of their most reliable reserve.
In Garrett’s absence, Charlie Moore provided KU with some offensive punch in the first half, scoring seven points off the bench — putting in two high-degree-of-difficulty baskets off drives and hitting an open 3-pointer.
With KU in the midst of a brutal start to the second half, Moore (nine points, two assists) tracked down a long defensive rebound and alertly pitched the ball ahead to Dotson for a layup that cut UT’s lead to four with more than 12 minutes to go.
K.J. Lawson scored eight off the bench and pulled down six rebounds. His steal with 1:30 remaining set up a transition opportunity for KU, and Moore drew the fifth foul on Williams before making two free throws to tie the game at 69.
The other Lawson brother, K.J. also secured a key defensive board in the final minute. On the ensuing possession, he drove and missed, but secured a critical offensive rebound of his own miss.
His activity on the offensive glass extended a possession in overtime, as well, eventually allowing KU to score a second-chance basket when his brother, Dedric, tipped in another miss for a 71-69 KU lead.
Backup bigs Lightfoot and David McCormack went scoreless. Lightfoot grabbed three rebounds.