This recap is admittedly a day late, but I have a very good reason: I stayed up until 6:30 am yesterday morning watching Roger Federer win his 18th grand slam.
Much like the greatest tennis player of all time took down his nearly equally great nemesis in a back and forth almost boxing match of a match, the greatest basketball program performed an equal feat Saturday, fighting back from an early double digit deficit to hold off the Wildcats by 6.
Offensively, Kansas didn’t make a three in the first half and finished just 5-19 from deep. It is maybe the most heartening stat that Kansas won despite that horrible mark from three, though of course it helps that they shot 60 percent on twos and turned it over on just 16 percent of their possessions. Even the majority of KU’s 14 missed threes were good looks, and while the Jayhawks only took about 30 percent of their shots from three, they didn’t completely abandon them after the bad start (Svi also made two shots with his foot on the line, which was incredibly frustrating).
Even more impressive though, was Kansas holding a top 5 offense in America to fewer than a point per possession at their place. Kentucky had the run of things early, getting out in transition early and often, but turnovers and a zone(?!) caught up to them in the end.
Kentucky shot 51 percent on twos, but that was well under the season average for the 12th-rated 2-point offense in the country. Kentucky also shot 40 percent from three, but Kansas did a really good job getting out and contesting on Malik Monk, and indeed the only real problem was helping off Derek Willis too much. I don’t blame Kansas for wanting to shut off the driving lanes, but Willis really doesn’t contribute anywhere else, so it was a little disappointing to see him be able to impact the game so much. But really, that’s it.
Kansas forced Kentucky turnovers on 23 percent of their possessions and allowed one of the best offensive rebounding teams in America to grab under 30 percent of their misses. A lot of the forced bad shots can be attributed to the zone, but the rest was all effort and guts. This team still has questions, plenty of them, but whether they are tough enough is not one of them.
- Josh Jackson: A. Jackson was 7-12 on twos, 2-5 from three (and is now up to 33 percent on the year), had 8 defensive rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds (including a huge one late to seal it) and 2 steals. Kentucky had no answer for him offensively, and Jackson played pretty good defense as well, other than leaving shooters a couple times.
- Devonte Graham: C-. Graham wasn’t great in this one, 2-4 on twos and 2-7 from deep with 1 assist and 5 turnovers, though it should be said he played well defensively and didn’t really take any bad threes.
- Frank Mason: A-. Mason was 8-14 from two (and probably had a couple misses where fouls should have been called), 1-4 from three, and was a big part of De’Aaron Fox’s awful day.
- Svi Mykhailiuk: B-. Svi was 2-4 on twos (with the aforementioned 2 foot on the line twos) and was 4-6 from the line.
- Landen Lucas: A+. Lucas was 6-6 from the field, grabbed 5 rebounds, and harassed the hell out of Bam Adebayo all night. Mason, Jackson, Graham, etc. are all great, but Lucas is the most important guy on the team.
- Lagerald Vick: C+. I thought Vick was much more engaged defensively in this one, and he also had the alley-oop finish of the year so far.
- Dwight Coleby: B. Coleby should get an A+ on a curve, and I feel a bit vindicated for saying he should have been playing more all along. He defended well, made his only shot, grabbed a rebound, and forced a steal.
- Mitch Lightfoot: Incomplete. Lightfoot got a block and had an offensive rebound in 4 minutes. You can tell he is going to have a nice career, but is just not strong enough to hang just yet.