LAWRENCE — When Kansas travels to Ohio State on Saturday, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks will face their two stiffest tests of the season. In a big-picture sense, the Jayhawks will be trying to take down No. 7 Ohio State for the third time in more than 12 months. But they’ll also face the task of stopping Ohio State junior Deshaun Thomas, perhaps the best scorer Kansas will face all season.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
“He’s a shot-maker,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday. “He’s a professional scorer at our level.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-7 forward, is averaging 20.4 points a game while shooting 46 percent from the floor. And the job of containing Thomas may largely fall on senior Travis Releford, the Jayhawks’ top perimeter defender.
“I look forward to guarding the best guy every time I step out,” Releford said. “So, for him to be that guy, I’m excited to be able to guard him. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Thomas, though, has the skills to play on the perimeter — and the bulk to bang inside. Self calls him a 31/2, or something closer to a stretch four, meaning Thomas can force opposing forwards to chase him around the outside. Last season, when KU defeated Ohio State twice, junior Kevin Young also spent time guarding Thomas.
“Deshaun will take some hard shots,” Self said. “He can get up 20 easily, and if you’re a natural scorer like he is, and averaging over 20 a game, you’ve got the green light to shoot some good contested shots. And he’s good at making them.”
Thomas had 19 points last season in Ohio State’s 78-67 loss at Allen Fieldhouse but then had just nine while battling foul trouble during KU’s victory over Ohio State in the Final Four.
“Maybe the biggest key in beating them in New Orleans,” Self said, “was him going to the bench for about 10 minutes the second half with foul trouble, because then we could trap the post.”
Craft poses challenge
Senior guard Elijah Johnson will also face a tough matchup against Ohio State junior point guard Aaron Craft, one of the top on-ball defenders in the country. Johnson, in his first season as KU’s starting point guard, is averaging seven assists and 2.5 turnovers per game in his last four games.
“I think the big key is you can’t dance with him,” Self said of Craft. “He’s not a guy that you (can be) aggressive, and then you get up next to him and then you try to back out of it. That’s when he goes at it.
“Tyshawn (Taylor) had a good handle last year, and he picked him twice. Just by Tyshawn relaxing a couple times and not being aggressive .”
Evan’s grandfather dies
Freshman Evan Manning’s grandfather, Danny Lucas, died Tuesday after a battle with ALS Self said Thursday. Lucas, 75, was a resident of Lawrence after spending most of his life in Wellington. The viewing was Thursday night, and the service is this morning. Manning, a walk-on guard, will meet the team Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, Self said.
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.