Tom Keegan: Backup Mitch Lightfoot saves Jayhawks at TCU

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) tips a three from TCU guard Jaylen Fisher (0) with seconds left in regulation, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Fort Worth, Texas — Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t always look as if he belongs playing minutes that matter for perennial national college basketball powerhouse Kansas.

Against bigger bodies he sometimes looks too small, too weak.

Too often he has the look of a playing-out-of-position backup center.

And then there was Saturday night in Schollmaier Arena, where Kansas survived ever-improving, former Big 12 doormat TCU, 88-84.

Lightfoot looked more like a savior in the close-call victory and his timing couldn’t have been much better. Kansas needed him and he delivered.

“Mitch, we couldn’t have won the game without Mitch,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Mitch was fabulous.”

The Horned Frogs didn’t have anyone wide enough or thick enough to stop 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike from scoring when he gained advantageous position.

Azubuike scored more than a point a minute, which made it all the more frustrating for him that he didn’t have the chance to play many minutes.

Azubuike made 6 of 6 field goals and 2 of 4 free throws for 14 points. He also fouled out in 13 minutes of action. His foul trouble very easily could have cost the Jayhawks the game if Lightfoot hadn’t ridden to the rescue, if he hadn’t been the team’s most valuable inside player on the night.

Lightfoot’s turnover-free game included nine points, a 3-pointer, seven rebounds, and six blocked shots. Lightfoot made his last block his biggest one.

TCU sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher, limited by constant foul trouble to 14 minutes, time enough to tally 16 points, had a hot hand for the Horned Frogs, despite not being able to stay in the game for long stretches.

Related document

Box score: Kansas 88, TCU 84 ( .PDF )

When Fisher had the ball with 32 seconds left, all 6,894 spectators in the intimate arena anticipated he would find a way to put up a 3-pointer. To that point, Fisher had made 4 of 5 treys. Another swish from the top of the key would have tied the game, 83-83.

Fisher eyed the rim. Lightfoot, who had switched onto him, eyed Fisher. In deliberate fashion, Fisher went up for the shot. Staying under control and at a safe distance so as not to risk a foul, Lightfoot easily blocked the shot, sending Kansas on its way to a strong finish.

Devonte’ Graham (28 points, six assists), again the best player on the floor, had the ball in his hands most of the night, but from his point of view it belonged elsewhere at the game’s end.

“He got the game ball for sure,” Graham said of Lightfoot. “He was ready to come off the bench and produce. All coach asked him was to play hard, protect the rim and do the little things to help us win.”

That’s what Lightfoot did, but that’s not all he did. He also showed off his shooting touch, hitting a 3 from the top of the key.

“Coach told me once the first one went in he knew I was putting up another one,” Lightfoot said.

That one didn’t go in, but that didn’t keep it from being his night.

All nine of his points, four of his rebounds and four of his blocked shots came in the second half.

“That was a big block,” Self said of the one that denied Fisher a shot at tying it, “but he had six. He was active. Mitch is a good athlete. He’s just not real big.”

Azubuike is big, too big for TCU to handle, but he got in his own way with foul trouble. KU played just as well with Lightfoot in the game, outscoring the Horned Frogs by three points during his 26 minutes. 

TCU grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and in part because of Lightfoot's efforts didn't convert enough of them into points to win the game.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. TCU


By the Numbers: Kansas 88, TCU 84

By the Numbers: Kansas 88, TCU 84

Comments

Andy Godwin

Thanks Mitch. Critically important and productive minutes, with Udoka in foul trouble. Early in the Big 12 season but an important win on a night when most of the home teams prevailed. Rock Chalk.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Good job, Mitch! Solid on D. Looking forward to see him grow as another offensive weapon. Let him take more jumpers..! I like that pick-n-roll sets by Mitch, too. Keep it up, team!

6 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Johnson

Mitch proved me wrong. He was the X factor and now probably has huge confidence going forward. I am very happy for that young man. What is Newman doing?

6 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

How about Garrett?

6 months, 1 week ago

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Matt Stone

I like Garrett but he looked like a deer in headlights. Want him to gain some confidence and act like the man he was at Skyline last year. Seemed very timid tonight. I know he has the talent so just take that ball and score! Cunliffe has played good and with confidence, maybe he should be first off bench or start over Newman. Side note. Betting R.Langford signs with Vanderbilt and Zion ends up at Clemson which I am fine with both, as long as it isn't Duke or U.K. Getting either.Anfernee Simons, Jarious Hamilton and Bryan Penn Johnson are options with those scholarships too.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Brad Avery

Mitch is a stretch 4. I believe given the opportunity to shoot within the 10-20 foot area where he can score, he will be an excellent player for K.U. He does not have the girth or length to be a back-to-the-basket post player. But he can block shots and has similar athletic ability to Svi. What he needs is confidence and more opportunity.

6 months, 1 week ago

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John Strayer

That's my revised thought as well. Early this season, to me it looked like he didn't belong. But now, I'm convinced he is just out of position and that isn't his fault. The short roster has forced him to a position he isn't suited for. I totally agree with the stretch 4 position for him.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Eliott Reeder

Outside of dunking the basketball, Mitch > Udoka in every other aspect of the game.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Yonatan Negash

Glad to get the win, on to ISU and KSU this coming week.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Robert Brock

Azubuike managed to pull down ONE rebound.

6 months, 1 week ago

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J.L. Forge

Which just amazes me! At 7' and 280, he is an extremely soft defender with minimal instincts as a rim and paint protector. Does it have to do with the fact that he is the only big? I dunno, but if so he is being handcuffed. He needs to go out with the mindset of dominating the interior and let the chips fall where they may. By being a more imposing force inside, that would force teams more to the perimeter and he wouldn't have the potential for foul trouble game in and game out. But one rebound, come on now. lol

6 months, 1 week ago

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Tony Bandle

All the PT that would have gone to Billy and now Silvio that is going to Lightfoot has accelerated Mitch's growth curve to the point where he could be one heck of a player next season as a hot spark of the bench while making himself ever viable this season.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Couldn't be happier for Mitch. He is an outstanding young man who is a born leader, whether it be in the game or on the bench.

I hope that he gets to play more at his natural position in the future because he is a "grinder" who has considerable skills. I'm assuming that he will be a 4 year player for KU, and that by his senior year, he will be a mainstay in a lineup that will likely be mostly comprised of highly ranked sophomores plus 4 and 5 star recruits.

6 months, 1 week ago

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Mallory Briggans

IF and I say IF the Jayhawks win the Big 12 this year and the balancing act of will or wont they play Desouza and Preston ... No bench production . Lack of offense from Garrett and Newman
Sam trying to get on the floor as he should . Now Vick is in a funk No frontcourt depth......and
to and icing on the cake having to sign a player off the football team . Clay Young had to be used at times just because we were shorthanded The pressure on this team to not be the one that doesn't win number 14 is also on the back of their minds if not for pride just not wanting to let down the Jayhawk nation and we are only at game 3 . Coach Self has to keep this team focused and together .......and if come March we are top this will Coach Selfs best coaching job
bar none ,

6 months, 1 week ago

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