Kansas entered Big 12 Conference play on pace to finish as the worst free throw shooting squad in school history.
The Jayhawks, who sank 59.2 percent of their free throws during their first 12 games, have improved dramatically against league opposition, cashing 77.6 percent of their free throws in four conference games.
Remarkably, Kansas (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) leads the league in free-throw percentage in conference games, but remains last in all games played at 63.7 percent.
“Yeah we really coached up free throws in the last four games,” Kansas coach Bill Self said sarcastically on Thursday at his weekly news conference.
“We don’t talk about stuff much. You guys (media) break this down far more than we break it down, in film or practice. We say, ‘All right. Everybody on the free-throw line. We’re going to shoot for seven minutes.’
“Or, ‘When you are not in the game (at a practice scrimmage), everybody is shooting free throws.’ It’s not something we spend a lot of time dwelling on that,” Self added.
The Jayhawks converted 15 of 18 free throws in Tuesday’s 81-70 victory at Oklahoma; 18 of 22 in Saturday’s 85-68 home win over Texas Tech; 13 of 20 in a 90-88 home win over Kansas State on Jan. 3 and 20 of 25 in an 86-80 victory over TCU on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The guys have been practicing them quite a bit,” Self said. “The reality of it is Frank (Mason, 84.6 percent in league; 74.7 overall) has shot quite a few of them. Josh (Jackson, 64.7 percent in league; 56.6 overall) made them last night (6 of 8 versus Oklahoma). No disrespect, but ’Doke hasn’t shot any the last few days. That probably hasn’t hurt our percentages at all,” Self added.
Freshman center Udoka Azubuike hit just 37.9 percent of his free throws before suffering a season-ending wrist injury after 11 games.
“We’ll shoot them great some games. Some games we won’t shoot them great. That’s kind of how it plays out. Our numbers have gotten better the last couple weeks,” Self said.
Kansas senior forward Landen Lucas, who has made 64.3 percent of his free throws in conference play and 68.6 percent overall, said, “I think we kind of put more emphasis on it, just more focus, making sure we are all locked in. We’ve been shooting more after practice, but really as a team stepping up to the line with more focus which leads to more confidence, too.”
Bragg bobbling basketball a lot
Kansas sophomore forward Carlton Bragg has had more turnovers (four) than points (three) the last two games.
“One thing I think has bothered him as much as anything else … for some reason he is going through a phase he doesn’t catch the ball,” Self said. “He had a rebound (against Oklahoma), the ball goes through his hands, they get the ball, he fouls when they get the ball. It should be our ball going the other way. It put two fouls on him. He had to sit the rest of the half.
“I think he is making progress, I do,” Self added. “It’s been slow, slower than he’d want it to be — to be real candid, slower than probably what we thought it would be. He got his confidence rattled early. Certainly I think he’s thinking about the right things, though.”
Bragg has played double-digit minutes in every game since sitting out the Nebraska game on Dec. 10 because of a one-game suspension. For the year, Bragg, a 6-10 Cleveland native, is averaging 6.3 points and 5.4 boards in 15.7 minutes per outing.
“He has better hands than what he’s shown,” Self said, noting it may soon be time to work on catching the ball at practice.
“What we need to do is — we’ve done it in the past, throw bad passes, have guys catch the ball with tennis balls and do different things,” Self said. “We can get one of those football machines and have guys practice a down-and-out and catch high and low passes or whatever. But for the most part, we probably haven’t done as much as what we should be doing in that area. I don’t think his hands are bad, but I just think he loses focus,” Self added.
Lucas said he can relate to Bragg’s going through a stretch where he can’t grasp the basketball cleanly.
“He’s getting where he needs to be. He’s getting his hands on the ball,” Lucas said. “Everybody should realize he is doing the right things. You’d rather have him be in the spot and maybe miss a ball than not be in the play at all. I think he’ll be able to change that around pretty quick.”
Coleby, Lightfoot not playing much
Self commented on the progress of seldom-used bigs Mitch Lightfoot and Dwight Coleby.
“I would like nothing more for those guys — for another big — to give us seven to 10 minutes a game,” Self said. “I think that would be very good for our team. Neither one of them are quite ready to do that. Dwight … a lot is health related,” he added of the 6-foot-9 junior transfer from Mississippi, who is coming off ACL surgery. “Mitch is just a little bit of inexperience.
“I do think Mitch has a chance to be a really good player. He’s an athlete, tough, but right now he has to be able to take to practice and do the things the team needs him to do in the short minutes he’s been in there. We wanted to play him against OU. He didn’t guard a ball screen, didn’t do anything (and) the guy made a layup. It’s not because he can’t do it, he just didn’t at that particular time.
“I think it’s coming. I think he is going to be a guy who can help us here hopefully sooner rather than later. It’d be advantageous for our team if he could step up and do that,” Self added of Lightfoot, a 6-8 freshman from Gilbert, Ariz.
Lightfoot apparently is a bit sped up on the court at practice and in games.
“An example of this is he says everything he’s doing. We’ll be in practice, we’ll joke with him like, ‘You don’t have to say, breathe now, ball fake.’ It just shows how much he’s trying, which is good,” Lucas said.
“You want guys to try,” Lucas added. “The next step is concentrate on the right things, don’t overthink things. It’s better I’m sure as a coach to pull a player’s excitement back than to do it the other way. He has the right mind-set when he goes out there. He has the right energy, now just kind of make sure he’s understanding and focusing in on what he needs to do and channel the energy in the right places.”
Young may visit Saturday
Trae Young, a 6-2 senior guard from Norman (Okla.) North High, who is ranked No. 14 in the recruiting Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, is planning on attending Saturday’s Kansas-Oklahoma State game (1 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse), Rivals.com reports. However, Young will not make the drive from Oklahoma if weather conditions are unfavorable. Young is considering Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.