KU's backup guards will have to earn Self's trust before they get more chances
Kansas City, Missouri — With Kansas boatracing UTEP Tuesday night at T-Mobile Center, in what will soon be a footnote of a meaningless nonconference December game, the conditions were ripe for the Jayhawks’ reserve guards to slide into starring roles for a change.
And head coach Bill Self surely would have let the team’s veteran leaders, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, rest a lot more in a 78-52 win that never was in doubt if he trusted KU’s backups more.
When Joseph Yesufu and Jalen Coleman-Lands subbed in during the first half, their performances inspired their head coach to wait as long as possible in the second half before letting them have another crack at it.
Yesufu turned it over twice, but worse, never looked comfortable when he got his first half audition.
Coleman-Lands was confident enough to come in looking for shots off the bench, but he took that approach too far for Self’s liking.
So as the second half played out, Self stuck with the KU players he trusts right now: the five starters and subs Mitch Lightfoot and Jalen Wilson.
There were less than five minutes left in a blowout before Yesufu made his way to the scorer’s table to check in for the first time in the second half. And Coleman-Lands subbed in not long after.
A 6-foot sophomore guard who transferred to KU from Drake, Yesufu’s second half redemption project began promising enough, with him contesting a 3-pointer right off the bat. But as KU moved to offense, an overzealous left-handed scoop off the glass from Yesufu didn’t even draw rim.
What would Self like to see from Yesufu (zero points) and Coleman-Lands (six points) when he turns to his reserve guards?
“Anything, really,” Self said during his postgame press conference.
“Our bench hasn’t been good, just to be real candid with you,” Self continued, before amending that statement to praise super-senior big Lightfoot, and say that he appreciated freshman forward K.J. Adams’ energy late in the tame.
“You know, Joe was not very good, and Jalen was not very good,” Self added.
With freshman guard Bobby Pettiford out due to injury, the Jayhawks needed much more from Yesufu and Coleman-Lands. And that will continue to be the case, maybe for several weeks, depending on the length of Pettiford’s absence.
The competition is about to tick up about a thousand notches, too, with Missouri coming to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.
You better believe Self will play his backup guards — both played 10 minutes against UTEP — even less versus the Tigers if they don’t attack the game the right way.
“We make the game harder than what it is. You just pass it to the next guy, and he passes it to the next guy and you take advantage of that. But those guys, when you say, ‘be aggressive,’ they think one thing: just shoot the ball,” Self said.
“They should look to shoot. But you don't have to hunt. And I feel like sometimes (Coleman-Lands) hunts a little bit, which is OK, as long as you move the ball and guard. But he over-dribbles it and Joe over-dribbles it,” Self said.
Those two will hear more about those topics in the days and weeks to come. And if they don’t adapt, Self proved Tuesday night in K.C. he’s not going to trust them.
Lightfoot, a six-year veteran, provided some sage advice for KU’s reserve guards after the loss, when asked what the bench unit needs from them.
“First off, we need somebody that there's no dropoff. I think those guys all have the ability to do that,” Lightfoot began. “What I mean by no dropoff is when we sub, the deficit has to decrease or the lead has to grow. I think that all the guys, like I said, can do that.”
And while Lightfoot didn’t bring up hunting shots or over-dribbling, he knows from experience a helpful tip for anyone in a KU uniform looking for more minutes.
“Playing defense is an easy way — make sure your man doesn't score, making sure they don't score when you're out there — is a really easy way to make your coaches happy with you,” Lightfoot said. “So I think that's something that we all can do.”