Surprise zone keys Jayhawks' win at Kansas State

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) protests a foul called against him during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. At left is Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed (20).

Manhattan — In the high-stakes world of Big 12 basketball, turnovers and 3-pointers are extremely valuable currency in every gymnasium and arena on the five-state conference map.

But nothing is worth quite as much as a nasty defense.

Monday night, at an electric and jam-packed Bramlage Coliseum, the Jayhawks used portions of each strength, in good stretches and bad, to plow past second-place Kansas State, 70-56, in a game the Jayhawks led for 37:29 and trailed just once, at 2-0.

In executing one of their best 2-3 zone defenses of the season for extended minutes, the Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big 12) looked the part of a puppet master when sitting in that zone, so often choosing what K-State would get and when it would get it, instead of allowing the Wildcats to run their offense the way they wanted to.

The zone not only neutralized K-State star Dean Wade, limiting him to just seven points in the final 25:38 of Monday's game, but also caught the Wildcats off guard.

Asked after the loss how much time the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4) spent preparing for KU's zone, flummoxed K-State coach Bruce Weber said, simply, “None. They haven't played zone.

“Obviously they got in foul trouble but we've gone against the zone the last time Baylor zoned us. We carved it apart, 7 out of 8 (from 3-point range), whatever it was. Move the basketball, it was one of the best zone clinics I've ever been a part of. For the whole game, we just didn't have great rhythm. I told the guys we had to play better than we did in Lawrence, because they are a great road team. They've got good poise. They understand each other and their roles. I expected them to come at us and they did.”

Added KU senior Devonte' Graham of the Jayhawks' zone: “I think the zone won us the game. We work on it every day in practice just in case we need it and, tonight, we needed it.”

It was all 3-pointers and turnovers early for the Jayhawks, who got three triples from three different players and raced out to an 11-2 lead in the game's first 3:40, forcing Weber to call timeout.

Related document

Box score: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56 ( .PDF )

After each make, Graham, who hit the first of the three, let out a wild yell of, “Boom!” in celebration.

The first scream was toward the direction of the K-State bench. The second went in the direction of teammate Lagerald Vick, who buried his trey from the corner off of a sharp pass by Graham. And the last was sent toward the K-State student section after a 3-pointer by Svi Mykhailiuk from the opposite corner.

After that one, K-State coach Weber called timeout and tried to refocus his team. Later in the half, after a Graham 3-pointer right in front of the K-State bench, Weber looked, saw Graham was all alone, and turned his head away from the play, unable to even watch Graham release the ball.

The shot went in, KU's lead grew and the Wildcats remained in a deep hole.

“This is his last time being able to play here, so emotions were high for him,” sophomore running mate Malik Newman said of Graham's early energy. “He always has great personality so it's just something we expect out of him. Nothing unusual at all.”

The Wildcats, whether trying to match the Jayhawks or not, were ice cold from the outside and too often settled for 3-point jumpers of their own.

While the Jayhawks hit six of their first seven 3-pointers on the night, the Wildcats missed their first five and made just six of 27. That not only limited the damage done by KU's 12 first-half turnovers, but also helped Kansas win the rebounding battle (41-31) for the first time in 11 games.

“That's always our thing, try to get one-and-out or no shots,” Newman said. “To keep those guys out of the paint and turn them into a jump-shooting team, that was kind of the scouting report, just have a hand up and all five guys go crash.”

First-half foul trouble that KU coach Bill Self described as “dicey,” also played a fairly significant role in this one.

Big man Udoka Azubuike, who made 2-of-5 free throws with a new-look shooting form, picked up his first foul at the 14:13 mark of the first half and immediately went to the bench. That saved the KU big man from foul trouble, but freshman reserve Marcus Garrett was not as fortunate.

In just 1:33 on the floor, Garrett recorded three fouls and was quickly sent to the bench for the rest of the half. Not long after, Vick picked up his second and that forced Self to go to seldom-used guard Sam Cunliffe, who played six first-half minutes and delivered a mixed bag of results.

Foul trouble was a monstrous theme of the first half for the Jayhawks, who reached the locker room on the brink of disaster but not quite past the tipping point.

In addition to Garrett's three fouls, Vick, Azubuike and Lightfoot all finished the first half with two fouls. Lightfoot, who became more critical with every overmatched second played by Silvio De Sousa, was called for his second on a blocking foul with 4:47 to play in the half. Twenty-two seconds later, Lightfoot again stood his ground, this time drawing a charging foul on K-State's Barry Brown, who picked up his second. Had the call gone the other way, KU could've been in serious trouble to start the second half.

“He's by far the best we have on our team stepping in taking a charge,” Self said of Lightfoot, saying he had no concerns about Lightfoot sliding in to take the charge.

Added Lightfoot, who banged his head late but checked back into the game a minute or so later and appeared to be fine after the game: “I have to do what my team needs me to do.”

In many ways, that described the entire Kansas roster on Monday night.

Whether talking about Mykhailiuk's 22 points, Newman's double-double or the smaller, perfectly-timed plays delivered by the rest of the lineup, the Jayhawks found a way to grind out another and now have won four Big 12 road games in five tries this season.

“I think we're more focused on the road,” Self said. “Something about traveling, eating all your meals together, doing the scout and having unlimited time to do it; even though it's only 30 hours total, I do think we're more focused on the road.”

A big part of the motivation for that on Monday came from the seniors and had to do with quieting the always-hostile K-State environment.

“That was a big part of it because it can get real crazy up in here and we did a good job jumping out and getting an early lead,” Graham said.

Added Self: “I'm not going to comment on the crowd being out of it, because I don't know that they were out of it. But this is the best job we've done since I've been over here (with) the crowd not becoming a big factor late.”

Monday's victory gave KU a two-game lead over Kansas State in the Big 12 race and momentarily, at least, puts Kansas a game-and-a-half ahead of second-place Texas Tech, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

KU's next game will come against Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Kansas State


By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

Comments

Andy Godwin

Congratulations Jayhawks. Big time win on the road. Glad to see KU is finally winning with defense and making the other team look bad. KU shot great in first half, but those turnovers keep KSU from being completely blown out. And then KU shoots terribly from the field in the second half, but kept KSU's offense off guard with the zone (is Weber clueless - sure glad we have Bill Self on our sideline). Gutsy win and glad to have Mitch coming off the bench and doing all of the dirty work. Cunliffe, De Sousa, and Garrett (not his night) need to do much more to give the starters a rest. Rock Chalk.

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Zone+Lightfoot, now that's D-E-F-E-N-C-E!! Blocks, getting charges, rebounding, great efforts by Mitch!! The rest of the team - terrific performance as a team. Ball moves faster now, Silvio and Cunliffe need to adapt quickly or else they'll be bench warmers. We're on track to FF with 15-20 assists per game. Go Jayhawk!

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

That had to have been Lightfoot's best game in a Kansas uniform. I'm looking forward to seeing how far he can grow as a player.

Good post!

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

Loved the zone too, but part of its effectiveness was due to the fact that KSU was ill-prepared to deal with it.

A couple passes to Silvio and Sam were not particularly good ones. But yes, better anticipation from players without much game experience will help. However (except for injuries/foul trouble), those players will remain bench warmers for the rest of this season, regardless of development.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Steve Zimmerman

RJ, good one.. I just realized one pass to Sam during a fastbreak - ball handler should push the ball forward not to pass to Sam when he wasn't looking at all (while sprinting towards opponent's basket).
Our guards should create easy shots with not-too-fast or not-too-fancy passes.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Bryce Landon

I loved the zone! It stymied KSU's offense and caused them to take a lot of forced shots. It also kept them from getting back into the game when we went from the start of the second half to the under-15 media timeout without scoring a single point.

I have criticized Self intensely for being unwilling to change his defense when game conditions warrant, and so it's only fair that I praise him when he does make the change in a game like this one. Also gotta love how Weber admitted to being totally unprepared to deal with the KU zone.

As much as we have dominated KSU in Bramlage Coliseum, maybe the Wildcats might want to think about moving back to Ahearn Fieldhouse?

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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David McNickle

I'm in the same boat Bryce. I'm not asking Self to play 20 minutes of zone a game. Just throw it in as a wrinkle and make the other team change up their offense. If nothing else, it means opponents have to consider KU might run zone and they take 15 or 20 minutes to practice it. It's been my only complaint about Coach in the last two years. Well, that, and the end of the OU game. Hope Weber stays because he spends more time complaining about officiating than he does coaching and it carries over to the fans and his team.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

KU was actually without a FG until almost the under-12:00! Yes, the zone kept the kitties from clawing back. Love that our guys were prepared to play it.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Mike Kendall

Here kitty, kitty--dare you to shoot over our zone! Hee, hee. Great win on the road. Self was a little emotional at the end, wasn't he? Rock Chalk!

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jonathan Allison

I think that Bill Self saw what we were seeing. A Kansas team that has been underwhelming at times this season playing about as close to its potential as we've seen yet. These guys have what it takes to not just secure #14, but also take us deep into March/April, if they can play like they did last night.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Early last night I saw just how tired some of our players are, but when Self went to the zone, you could see just how the zone took the pressure off of playing man-to-man. I think the zone can help us come tournament time, extending the time players are on the court, keeping players out of foul trouble and just giving opponents a different look.

I agree that we saw Kansas playing up to their potential and Svi showed that he should be a first-round draft pick.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jim Stauffer

We do need to get some minutes each game from Silvio, Marcus and Sam. That will provide an opportunity to reduce Vick, Svi, Devonte and Malik to around 35 mins. per game.

I think we can function to the end of the season with those minutes.

Even if we are outscored by the opponent in those minutes a refreshed unit will overcome that. We have done it many times before.

To get 20 minutes rest for 4 guys it would take a total of 10 mins per game by Marcus and Sam if I am correct. Those would not be consecutive minutes so we should not get inundated by the opponent.

Mitch, Dok and Silvio can easily master 40 mins per game inside and have sufficient allowance for Bill to gradually experiment with 2 bigs for a few mins each game.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I've been harping for more playing time for Cunliffe for quite some time but when he had his chance last night, he looked awful. Maybe it was nerves but other than making a couple of shots this season, he hasn't yet lived up to expectations.

As much as I like your post, I think I'm going to trust our head coach when it comes to minutes played.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

Coming off the bench is an art - like pinch hitting with the bases loaded in a tight game. It has to be a real adjustment for players used to starting - and probably starring - their whole lives.

And ... neither player has had the opportunity to be subbed in along with others during a blow out. When Sam or Silvio enter the game, all eyes are upon them. The likelihood of Self's unsparring quick hook fuels the pressure, and creates a disproportionate focus and scrutiny on these particular players from the fans.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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David McNickle

Sam looked very nervous last night. Dropped a pass in the corner on a three ball. Even the play he scored on he ran right down the middle and wasn't looking for a pass. He did look like he was really concentrating on the defensive end. Maybe that took all his focus.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Bryce Landon

I saw why Self has been so reluctant to let Sam play. He not only looked bad, he looked devoid of some of the basic fundamentals of basketball. How he scored that one layup was a miracle to me.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Tony Bandle

Random Thoughts:

1] It sure got quiet in the Octagon with about 5 minutes to go...then I saw a ton of empty purple seats!!

2] Didn't hear the Rock Chalk Chant at the end...probably just as well. Any Hawk fans would have probably gotten attacked.

3] I know it looks rough now, but give Sivio the rest of this season, a summer with Hudy and a full preseason of coaching and this kid is going to be a beast next season!

4] Is it just me or is Lightfoot kind of becoming the stealth MVP for this year?

5] What KU has lacked in size has been balanced by quickness, speed and athleticism. That 2/3 zone defense allowed them to use all three attributes. I hope Bill uses it more now and not just in situations like foul trouble.

6] The Lawsons, Moore and the three top recruits make six new faces next year on court. Add De Sousa, Cunliffe, Lightfoot, Vick, and Garrett, Svi, Devonte and most likely Malik are gone. Does Dok stay or does he go?

7] Langford would be a nice addition, wouldn't he.

8] Svi is quickly becoming a broadcaster favorite. Every time he hits one from the corner that Fran Frachilla says he owns he makes Fran look good [not an easy thing to do].

9] I wonder what the Vegas over and under was for Dok to hit two free throws in a row?

10] 7-2 at the half way mark with road wins at WV, TX, TCU, KSU.....not too shabby. West Virginia is at Oklahoma tonight......is there any way they could both lose? :)

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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DiscGolfer Jason

I thought Dok said he was here for 2 years, then gone. I really like how Mitch is playing. I hope he gets to play his natural position next year. 20 mins of playtime and no points???

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Pius Waldman

Dok doesn't appear to be drafted. He needs to develop more than just dunking the ball.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jonathan Allison

Agreed, Dok isn't appearing on mock drafts. He should go to the combine this year and get feedback, but I don't think that in the modern NBA that he will be drafted on size alone. He needs to be a consistent force with his back to the basket and a routine double double machine.

He may choose to go this year, but he could be a mid first rounder if he comes back and becomes a walking double double.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I think Udoka said that before his season ending injury early in last year's season. I think he needs 2 full seasons before going to the draft.

I just hope he doesn't listen to some shyster telling him differently and he comes back for at least another season.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I know that Duke has one of the best all-time recruiting classes for next season but when you look at our incoming class plus all the transfers becoming eligible, I think we still come out on top.

If Udoka stays and (knocking on wood) no major injuries, next year could possibly be Self's best (potentially) team.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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John Fitzgerald

This game was a battle of coaches and Self out coached Weber, once again.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

You got it. Self made great adjustments in-game and at halftime. Weber basically did little to adjust to the Kansas zone and got caught up arguing with the referees in just about every call.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Bryce Landon

It shows why Self is at Kansas and why Weber is at Kansas State.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Michael Sillman

Weber is so crazed about beating Self particularly in front of the home crowd that he tightens up his own guys. I can’t attribute some of those first half bricks to the Jayhawk defense. Wade was the only one who was playing free and easy.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Pius Waldman

Maybe Self is realizing some of his past methods need change. I was completely surprised he even tried zone due to his past comments. Boy that was a huge factor in winning. With limited substitution that helps lessening fouling. You play to win so use whatever works.
Great job by the Jayhawks. Many pegged a loss at Manhattan. Protect the home
games and another championship.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Let's see. Solid defense, staying focused, and a few tricks up the sleeve by Coach Self to help neutralize Dean Wade and the others who hurt KU in Lawrence. Not a bad prediction, if I do say so myself. Just having a little fun with y'all.

Devonte and Malik each played 40 minutes and recorded double-doubles. I guess Devonte isn't exhausted yet. Svi plays 39 minutes and leads the scoring. Pretty good trifecta.

Malik is the biggest factor in KU's improvement. He has gone from mostly not showing up to being a huge leader at both ends of the floor. Very happy for him.

Also, Mitch gets better all the time, and I expect him to be a star the next two years. He has a tremendous attitude and gives his all for the team.

Kudo's to Dok for being a force in the game and for even making a couple of free throws. Way to go, big guy!

Nice to see Sam Cunliffe get a little playing time and even score a basket.

Keep that momentum going, baby!

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jonathan Allison

Malik and Lightfoot hold the keys to KU having a very successful postseason.

If both can be consistently good, then KU has a team that could make the final four.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

Malik and Mitch are x-factors, but I would argue that Graham's health is the key. Maybe we're saying the same thing.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jonathan Allison

Yes, of course we need Graham and Svi to continue doing what they're doing, as well as Vick and Dok. We don't NEED superVick like we saw early in the year, we just need Vick and Dok to continue to play hard and limit mistakes.

The improved play from Malik and Mitch will elevate that bunch from sweet 16 to title contenders by taking the pressure of Graham and Svi and giving us a quality backup to Dok

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Jan Koelsch

If Weber was surprised with this ingenious zone, then he is in LaLa Land. Where has he been? This isn't the first game Self has used the zone. Weber can never match Self as a coach.
This was THE worst, most unjust officiating. Any time John Higgins, and about 3 other officials do a KU game with anyone, we have to battle the officials and the other team. The officials' charity should be equitable. It should apply to equally to both teams.
Not calling a Technical II and ejecting the KSU player who tripped Graham was a misjustice. Very unsportsmanship like conduct and bad playing strategy.
These Jayhawks Rock!

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Tony Bandle

Most of you have probably noticed already but John Higgins goes to the video replay at the scorers table more than any other ref in America. Is it because he is dedicated to get the game right?

NOPE!!

John Higgins thinks the game is all about him and the more screen time he gets, the better the viewers will enjoy the broadcast. If anyone disagrees with me I would be happy to hear your position.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

Well, he did appear to have gotten a spray tan in case of TV exposure.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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RJ King

"This was THE worst, most unjust officiating." Yes, the trip could have been called flagrant. But, ejection??? Hardly. Watch again in slo-mo. I think you'll find your outrage is unwarranted.

KSU coach and fans were outraged, but announcers even mentioned refs getting it right - especially when the call benefited Kansas.

A couple of Garrett's fouls were pretty ticky tack. The 3rd foul on Dok was questionable, but they missed a couple what could have been called moving screens on him. And Lightfoot's left foot was still sliding when he took the 1st charge.

Wade got away with a few holds, and has channeled his inner Tyler Hanbrough, but without actual flopping. However, there was a foul on Wade on a free throw rebound that could've just as easily gone to Cunliffe. In addition, a loose ball clearly went off Dok. The refs were uncertain, gave KSU the ball, and it cost them the possession arrow.

Fouls were very even until the final minutes. Honestly don't think officials were much of a factor in this one.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Agree RJ.

The refs didn't have one of their best nights but they had negligible effect on the outcome.

As for the tripping incident, I didn't see anything that warranted an ejection. I think the BIG 12 referees are on par with refs from other conferences and I don't believe there is any systemic bias against KU.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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