Carlton Bragg is hoping his strong second half against Long Beach State will help him snap out of an early-season sophomore slump.
“It’s not going to just happen overnight. I’ve got to go through the process, get better and better each day,” said Bragg, Kansas’ 6-foot-10 forward from Cleveland, after scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds in the final 20 minutes of the Jayhawks’ 91-61 victory over the 49ers on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
His first half happened to be his worst of the season — no points, no rebounds and two fouls in just 1 minute off the bench.
Bragg, who entered with 15 minutes left in the first half, admits he was a bit frustrated having to return to the pine so quickly after two whistles.
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“Picking up petty fouls, not being smart, not thinking the game, picking up cheap fouls,” Bragg said of his early misfortune. “I don’t know when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive. I have to adjust to it, get better at it. It’s a big challenge.”
Bragg said his improved 10-minute second-half performance was made possible partly because of the support of fellow big man Landen Lucas, who missed Tuesday’s game because of a strained oblique.
“I look up to Landen. He always knows the right thing to say and when to say it,” Bragg said. “When I picked up the second foul, he said, ‘Next play. Keep your mind focused.’ We motivate each other. Him being here longer than me, he knows what to say. He knows what to do. I tell him all the time, ‘Think next play,’ as well.”
The 6-10 Lucas, who also has been off to a slow start in his senior season (4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds a game, compared to Bragg’s averages of 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds), has been part of a big-man group that has been pushed hard by coach Bill Self at practice.
“It’s been challenging,” said Bragg, who has logged 16.6 minutes per game. Lucas has averaged 17.8 minutes. “He’s been on us real hard, just giving us challenges. He always says, ‘The guards can’t make up for everything.’ We’ve got to start showing what we can do.”
Bragg had one of the top individual plays during Tuesday’s rout. He skied for a two-handed follow slam of a Udoka Azubuike miss.
“That gave us momentum, the spark we need during the game,” Bragg said. “Go get the offensive rebound.”
Bragg’s six points in the final half came on 3-of-7 shooting. For the year, he’s made 56.4 percent of his floor shots and 71.4 percent of his free throws.
“He did a couple of good things,” Self said. “But he took himself out of the game the first half with two bad fouls. The thing that’s frustrating is he knew Landen wasn’t going to play. He knew he’d play a ton of minutes and takes himself out of the game with two fouls in 1 minute. The second half he did some good things. We’ve got to have him playing at a higher level. Hopefully this was a start to get a little confidence back.”
Bragg, who has come off the bench the last two games after starting the first five, has not let his early-season struggles affect him off the court. He’s still active on the bench, cheering on his teammates, and he still smiled through postgame interviews Tuesday.
“I’m loving school. I love everything about this place. This place is very special,” Bragg said of KU.
He became animated in discussing the difficulty of battling freshman big man Azubuike in practice every day. Azubuike is listed at 7-feet, 280 pounds, though Self said recently Azubuike is down to 262. Bragg weighs 240.
“It’s crazy. His size is unreal,” Bragg said. “When he backs you down, oh my goodness, it’s a bucket. It’s a bucket.”
He said Azubuike flattened him on one occasion.
“He faked it middle and went baseline. It was crazy. He caught me bad,” Bragg said.
KU will next meet Stanford at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Starting lineup topic of discussion
Self says he continues to be amazed at how much attention is paid to the starting lineup in the media.
“The thing is, people get so hung up on it, especially at Kansas. There were times at Illinois and Tulsa I didn’t start our leading scorer multiple times and I never had to explain why,” Self said in his pregame radio interview Tuesday.
Lagerald Vick and Azubuike have started for Lucas and Bragg the past two games.
“Here you don’t start a guy who is laboring or whatever or somebody else is playing better and it’s a big story,” Self said. “It’s not a story. There’s no story about who is starting and who is not starting. I know what will be best for our team I believe over time. It (the lineup) will probably be based on who we are playing. We probably need to get used to that. Like how Udoka and Lagerald played (combined for 32 points in their first start against UNC Asheville), I don’t think it had to do with starting. If Carlton and Landen don’t play as well because they are not starting, they are not in it for the right reasons. It’s not who starts, it’s more who finishes than who starts.
“If egos are so big you have to have to have your name called to want to be out there and play … I don’t really understand that, especially at a place like Kansas. I know guys get in rhythm and routines and everything. Nobody has been in a good rhythm yet, so it shouldn’t affect anybody in any way.”
Lucas up for NABC award
KU senior forward Lucas on Wednesday was one of 278 players nominated for the Allstate NABC Good Works team.
Players are nominated for community service and “leadership among their peers.”
A list of 10 awards recipients will be announced in February.