On Friday afternoon, nearly 24 hours before Kansas scored a 76-67 victory over Texas inside Allen Fieldhouse, coach Bill Self summoned his four best players for a meeting inside the KU basketball office at the Wagnon-Parrott Athletic Center. They sat as a group — Self, senior forward Perry Ellis, junior guards Frank Mason and Wayne Selden and sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham. Self desired honesty.
…“The thing was,” Ellis said, “we all have the most say on the team, and we just see everything — what’s going on on the court …
“He wanted us to speak on how we felt (and) things we could do better.”
…“This isn’t a popularity contest or ‘Everybody feel good and have cookies and milk after the game,’ ” Self said. “The most important thing is to win, and whoever gives us the best chance to win, this is what these guys want to do.”
This was the theme the previous day, too, when Self met with his veterans. Self wanted his stars to take ownership, to take control of the team. On Saturday, that control manifested itself in multiple ways.
“The headlines are never gonna read ‘Freshmen played bad, Kansas loses,’ ” Self said. “It’s going to be, ‘Self this, or Selden that, or Ellis or Graham or Mason,’ and that’s the way it should be. And so, I just wanted them to be on the same page. They need to take ownership and tell me how they really feel about certain things — and they did.”
Graham said Self brought up the topic of leadership, telling his guys that aspect was lacking in recent road losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
“When things were going rough, nobody really stepped up and led the team well. You see what happened,” Graham said. “We’re just all trying to do a better job of leading.”
Ellis also remembers Self telling the players to be themselves and that positive outcomes would result from that.
…“I think we did pretty well today,” Graham said of the foursome. “In the two practices we had, we’ve just been trying to be more vocal, pointing out little things that we thought didn’t matter that actually matter.”
That could be a lot of things, Graham said. If a player wasn’t giving strong help, he was now getting called out. If teammates weren’t setting screens or boxing out correctly, one of the four was saying something.
“We’ve talked about a lot of things that we can do better on tape, but I think it’s more between our ears,” Self said. “It’s not in our heart, though, but more between our ears on how to do things.
“You have a kid saying, ‘Well, if I guard it the way you say, but how do I know if somebody behind me is going to do what he’s supposed to do, because he didn’t do it last time?’ Just things like that.
“Guys get hesitant, and not selfish play, but selfish thoughts.”
The trust factor could be a reason why KU relied so heavily on Lucas and Traylor on Saturday. The two combined for two points in 38 minutes but had 15 rebounds between them.
“Landen played great today,’’ Self said. “We obviously didn’t play guys today, because I thought this gave us the best chance to win. We went with our veterans.
“To me, this was our most important game of the season so far because we needed to eliminate the negative momentum. We were in a rut. We were in a funk. Certainly our experience gave us the best way to do that.’’
Self also noticed the zeroes for Lucas in so many categories, but looked beyond them.
“If you study the little things he does, he played well,’’ Self said. “I thought ’Mari (Traylor) came in and did some good things. That position combined for two points, but they got 15 rebounds, so that was much better. We were good on the glass.’’
Good enough to claim a 39-31 edge on the backboards, while limiting Texas to five offensive boards. That particular flex of the muscles gave KU a 19-5 advantage in second-chance points.
Even the physical strengths of the Longhorns’ Prince Ibeh were negated, though the intimidating center blocked 7 shots to go with 7 points and 7 boards.
Granted, Lucas whiffed on a few stats, but that was OK. The little things he did, competing underneath on defense and positioning himself properly for rebounds, screens and passes, makes him an inside contributor teammates trust.
Freshman Cheick Diallo didn’t play after starting Tuesday’s loss at OSU. Senior Hunter Mickelson also was not called upon to play in the frontcourt.
“Visiting with the guys and who trusts who ... I think Cheick is happier now than he would be if he’d played three minutes and not gone back in,” Self said. “Like I said, we just wanted to win the game.”
Self said, “I don’t know,” when asked about KU’s rotation in upcoming games. “I don’t think we’re going to play 12 guys,” he added, “but I don’t know if it’s similar (to Saturday) or not. To me if you’ve got a big guy in there (like Texas’ Prince Ibeh who had a career-high seven blocks) Landen is most equipped to guard him. You got a pick and pop guy, somebody else is more equipped. It’ll probably just depend how match-ups are.”
In the moments after the game, Self was asked if he ever envisioned this kind of record at home when he took the job at Kansas in 2003.
“I know what fans would have said,” Self said. “ ‘Why the (heck) did you lose nine?’ ”
Self, who has more Big 12 regular-season titles (11) than home losses, mostly brushed aside the moment.
“All that is,” Self said, “is a reflection of having better players for the most part and a great home crowd. But it’s something that we’re proud of. But it doesn’t have any significant meaning to me at all.”
Former Kansas coach Ted Owens has the most wins at Allen Fieldhouse. He had a 206-47 mark in the building in 19 seasons. Self can tie that mark this season if the Jayhawks, who have won 34 straight at home, can win their final six home games.
“I guess I did know it going in, but I didn’t realize it until after the game,” Self said. “That’s pretty good. It’s better than 199-10, which it looked like it could have been today.”
"Of course we didn’t want to get off to that kind of start, but we knew were going to come back the whole time," Graham said. "We just had to settle down. We were sped up at the beginning of the game."
With junior big man Landen Lucas tracking down offensive rebounds, Mason and Selden hit back-to-back three pointers to pull the Jayhawks within three. The run was then capped off by a layup and free throw from sophomore Devonte’ Graham to tie. Lucas finished the game with 10 rebounds, six of which were offensive.
The game turned when: KU surged ahead with a 14-2 run midway through the second half. The Jayhawks had trailed the entire game, at one point by as many as 12 points, and found themselves down 40-33 early in the second half before ripping off the 12-point run sparked by six points from Ellis and a pair of threes from Selden and Graham.
• Offensive highlight: With the shot clock winding down and KU struggling to get anything going offensively, Frank Mason III caught a pass on the left wing, immediately attacked the paint and looked to make a play. As he got close to the rim, UT's Prince Ibeh swallowed him up, but Mason dropped a perfect pass to Ellis, who had a clear path to the rim for the monster jam.
Asked what went wrong that turned an early 12-point Texas lead into a late 13-point deficit and eventual nine-point KU win, Smart rattled off a few factors like he had experienced them a dozen times before.
“It was a combination of three things,” the first-year UT coach said. “First, when you come in here and you play in this unbelievable atmosphere, you know that a run is coming, and the crowd is gonna be behind their team.”
That run allowed Kansas to turn a 40-33 second-half deficit into a 57-46 lead with 8:44 to play.
“Second thing is, we missed some pretty easy shots that I think we normally would make,” Smart continued.
They did, missing four point-blank shots to kick-start the KU run during a second half in which they shot seven percentage points lower than in the first half.
“The third thing is, Kansas made some great plays, and I think you have to give those guys credit,” Smart finished.
“He’s terrific,” Smart said of Kansas University senior forward Perry Ellis. “I said it before the game: I don’t know why he doesn’t get more attention nationally.”
Ellis might after dropping 26 points on Texas in a 76-67, storm-from-behind victory Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I know in the Big 12 he’s been a guy that’s been highly thought of for a long time,” Smart said. “He’s a guy who deserves to be talked about just like some of these other guys as an All-American, maybe even national player of the year candidate because he is hard to deal with.”
No matter where he is on the court, Ellis occupies the thoughts of the opposing defense. He made two of four three-pointers and nine of 15 field goals, and all but one of his four rebounds came off the offensive glass.
Ellis, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior from Wichita, was even more lethal faking shots and driving, and he made all six of his free throws.
“He played great today,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He was aggressive. He drove it, and I thought he got fouled a few times on drives that weren’t called. He was a different player today than he was at Oklahoma State.”
Once again, Kansas University junior guard Frank Mason III fell hard on his right elbow and hand late in KU's 76-67 victory over Texas Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Mason, as he always seems to, shook off the rough landing and appears to be OK.
“He’s fine,” KU coach Bill Self said after the game.
Self said Mason, who has had knee and elbow problems, sometimes gets some time off from practice to combat his aches and pains and all the minutes he’s played so far this season.
…Landen Lucas was awarded his first start of the regular season. He responded with 10 rebounds while not scoring in 23 minutes.
“Yesterday he (KU coach Bill Self) came up to me and made it simple. He said, ‘Here’s the things you can do to help the team win. Go out and do them,’’’ Lucas said. “Rebound, rebound, rebound. Play defense. Set screens. We have so much talent if I can get them (other KU teammates) open and do different things to help them score ... there will be games I’ll be able to score more than zero, but (I) just (want to) help them do that and go after every single ball. The big thing is to create extra possessions to help the team out.”
Of starting, Lucas added: “It’s been in the conversation before. He was worried in the past about me fouling. Who starts is not the biggest deal. It’s about game flow and who finishes the game.”
The University announced Saturday that ESPN College GameDay will be making its seventh stop all-time in Lawrence for the men’s basketball game against Kentucky on January 30. Doors will open for the event at Allen Fieldhouse at 6:30 a.m.
Per the University, the event is free and no tickets are required. The actual show will begin at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN. Some concession stands will be open for the event, per the University.
The expected crew for the show will be: Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams.
This will be the seventh straight year that Kansas has been featured on GameDay as either the home or the road team. The last time Kansas was the home team for GameDay by itself was in 2013; the University was a host of a split show in February of 2015.
Saturday, the University also announced there will be a T-shirt giveaway for fans in attendance. There will be red, white and blue shirts given away, and they will be placed on the seats inside the stadium, similar to the Oklahoma State game in January of 2014.
The Jayhawks won that game in 2014 by two, as then-freshman Frank Mason III blocked a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Like in that game, the University will be taking an “ultra-high-resolution 360-degree photo,” so fans can go back later and find themselves in the crowd. The photo will be available online Monday, February 1.
VOTE for Coach Self
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Big 12/College News
Jawun Evans attempted one of the strangest fade away jumpers you will ever see Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum. The Oklahoma State star twisted his body toward the basket, but leaned his weight away from it as he launched a shot high into the air and far away from his intended target.
The shot clock was nearing zero midway through the first half, and his desperation three-point heave resulted in a turnover that helped Kansas State amass a huge lead on its way to an 89-73 victory in front of sellout crowd.
The air ball was a microcosm of how much better the Wildcats were than the Cowboys.
…The win was so convincing that an Oklahoma State fan sitting in the third row grew so frustrated he began questioning the team he was there to support.
“How,” the fan shouted late in the second half, “did you guys beat Kansas?”
Vanderbilt is undoubtedly one of the most disappointing teams in college basketball, and their season didn't get any better on Saturday afternoon.
The Commodores fell to No. 23 Kentucky 76-57 as the Wildcats smothered Kevin Stallings' team defensively and just out-executed them with precision offensively. Vanderbilt shot 32 percent from the field and turned the ball over 12 times, compared to Kentucky shooting 55 percent with just seven turnovers.
Tyler Ulis had his second-straight 20-plus point outing as well, scoring 21 points and dishing out five assists. Jamal Murray also had a pretty nice day, scoring 18 and grabbing seven rebounds. These two combined to heavily outplay Vanderbilt's potential lottery pick Wade Baldwin, who went 1-of-9 from the field and turned the ball over five times while trying to create offense against the long Wildcat team.
Kentucky has been really great this week, bouncing back nicely from its loss last weekend to Auburn. They're now 5-2 in the SEC, and look like the clear challenger to a now 7-0 Texas A&M team that looks like the favorite in the league.
Coming into the year, you would have thrown Vanderbilt into that conversation along with those two teams as SEC contenders. But right now, it's just about impossible to do that. The Commodores are a mess, and need to turn things around quickly if they want to even make a run toward the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Hillcrest Academy center DeAndre Ayton split his Saturday in Lawrence as a spectator and the main event.
A few hours after watching Kansas University defeat Texas at Allen Fieldhouse, the 6-foot-11 Phoenix prep became the main attraction Saturday night at Free State High, where the junior’s 35 points, 21 rebounds and eight blocked shots carried the Bruins to a 71-67 victory against Wichita’s Sunrise Christian Academy.
The No. 4-ranked high school junior in the nation according to Rivals.com, Ayton often exploded quickly off the floor to snatch rebounds out of the air and violently attack the rim, as KU coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend watched from their court-side seats. Jayhawks Perry Ellis, Cheick Diallo and Dwight Coleby saw the show, too, as Ayton, a Bahamas native, abused the FSHS rims, with 11 savage dunks — eight coming on offensive rebounds.
Sunrise out-performed Ayton’s Hillcrest team much of the game, and the big man’s Bruins trailed 31-26 at halftime. But Ayton said he became more abusive toward the rim as the game grew more competitive. Much of the night, he dunked with the ease and authority of a child taking his frustrations out on the Nerf basket in his bedroom.
“It was personal,” Ayton said. “They were talking trash out there, and I tried to show them, you know, we’re gonna win this game, this is who I am, stuff like that.”
…His afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse required far less work. Ayton said he had a “pretty good” visit and enjoyed the atmosphere. Much like his Hillcrest team, KU had to rally on Saturday. The effect of the crowd left an impression on the center.
“I couldn’t hear myself, to be honest. I love stuff like that,” Ayton said. “I love playing in front of people. I love entertainment. And I just felt all the love with Kansas, like a player if I was there.”
Mobile and imposing on the court, Ayton said his interest in Kansas stems from the year Joel Embiid spent with the Jayhawks, because he liked how Self used the agile center.
Watching Ellis operate and score 26 points against Texas further piqued his interest: “It’s crazy. They have a lot of plays where they really went through him.”
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2016)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube