The Kansas basketball team, minus Carlton Bragg, practiced Friday at the same time Bragg, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, had his first appearance in Douglas County District Court on a misdemeanor battery charge.
Distractions aplenty, there’s still a game to be played between No. 3-ranked Kansas, 8-1, and Nebraska, 5-4, at 2:15 p.m., Saturday, at Allen Fieldhouse.
“We play a good team tomorrow,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a brief interview with The Star following practice. “Our focus is on Nebraska and what players we have. Our focus is strictly on Nebraska and getting our guys’ minds right to play well.”
Self was asked a specific question about the game, the coach reiterating he’d have no comment regarding Bragg except for a news release quote that stated: “Carlton and I have spoken. He certainly understands the circumstances surrounding this issue. We are taking this charge very seriously. We’re going to hold him out from competition as we continue to gather facts.”
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On the court, Bragg — who won’t play against the Cornhuskers — has been part of a big-man group off to a slow start this season. Bragg has averaged 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 16.0 minutes across nine games, while Landen Lucas, who has battled foot and oblique injuries, has averaged 4.9 points and 4.4 boards in 17.4 minutes per game.
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, several hours before Bragg’s arrest, Lucas discussed the importance of the big men stepping up and contributing for the Jayhawks, whose top five scorers are all guards.
“We take a lot of pride in the bigs as a whole. I know we are still a team and everything, but we work out together and when we split into bigs and guards we’re together,” Lucas said.
“We don’t want to be looked at the way that we have been so far this season. That’s not the expectations we have for ourselves. We are really serious about it every day in practice making sure we turn it around, not get too down on anything, make sure we do have the understanding we will turn it around and it is a long season,” Lucas added.
Lucas has had foul problems in several games this season and expressed displeasure with the referees on the court on occasion.
“I guess it would be more (leading) by example I need to work on,” Lucas said. “Just because if I’m out there telling them (fellow bigs), ‘Don’t do this or don’t get on the refs’ or ‘make sure you are not doing this’ and I go out there and do it myself, it’s not doing a very good job of setting a very good example or bringing them along.”
Freshman big man Udoka Azubuike — who has started the past four games along with guard Lagerald Vick (replacing Lucas and Bragg, who started the first five) — has averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 boards in 13.2 minutes per outing, while forwards Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot, who could play more with Bragg out of action, have combined for 19 points and 32 rebounds total while not being a part of the early-season rotation.
“We’re not going to score consistently shooting 50 percent from three all the time,” Self said Thursday. The Jayhawks have made 54 of 96 threes for 56.3 percent the last four games. “You’ve got to be able to throw the ball inside and get fouled or score on the block some. You have to be able to do that. So we need to feed those (inside) guys more often, get them more touches.
“On the flip side of that, they don’t need to look to score if they’re getting the ball more. They can wait and have better timing and not force the issue. I think the more touches you get, the less you feel inclined that you have to score. The less touches you get, obviously, you want to try to shoot the ball. I think that’s a natural instinct. So we need to allow those guys to play out a rhythm, and it will be best for our team if we play inside out.”
The 7-foot Azubuike scored four points and grabbed three rebounds while playing 12 minutes in Tuesday’s 105-62 win over UMKC. He missed two shots and was 4 of 8 from the line.
“I think he’s done OK,” Self said Thursday. “But I don’t think he’s come close to playing to his presence, at all. Doke’ should catch it and go immediately (to the rim), more times than not. We talk to him a lot about that. A lot of that is just confidence too, but he needs to catch and go immediately.”
First of two meetings
Kansas’ game against Nebraska is part of a home-and-home series. The Jayhawks will travel to Lincoln, Neb., during the 2017-18 nonconference season.
The Jayhawks lead the all-time series, 170-71, but the two schools, who were old Big Eight and Big 12 rivals, have not met since Nebraska left for the Big Ten in 2011. Kansas has won the last 17 meetings and 26 of 27 dating to 1999.
Nebraska’s last victory in the series was 74-55 on Feb. 15, 2004, in Lincoln. Kansas is 88-23 versus Nebraska in Lawrence, including 51-7 in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight over Nebraska in Allen.
“No, it doesn’t feel like a conference game to me at all, and it won’t to Tim (Miles, fifth-year Nebraska coach who did not coach in the Big 12),” Self said.
“It will mean something, because they obviously have a good name nationally ,and they’re from the Big Ten. And it would be a nice feather in our cap. It would be a great feather in their cap or nice feather in their cap as well if they come in here and play great.
“It will be one of our more competitive games so far, no question. But I don’t see it as a conference-type game.”
At one point, Saturday’s game was being billed as the return of former Kansas player Andrew White to Allen Fieldhouse. But White, who played two years at KU and one at Nebraska, left Nebraska last summer for Syracuse.
“There were no ill feelings with Nebraska or with Andrew when he made the decision to leave, and it turned out to be a good decision,” Self said. “You go there and you average 16 a game, where maybe here you didn’t get a chance to play as much.”
Owens’ son works at Nebraska
Teddy Owens, son of former Kansas coach Ted Owens, is Nebraska’s director of basketball operations. Teddy tells the Lincoln Journal-Star that he, wife Ashley, and their two sons, Layton Bracket and Nash Naismith, plan to spend some time in Lawrence on Saturday night before returning to Lincoln. Ted Owens, 87, who lives in Tulsa, Okla., is planning on attending the game.
“Allen Fieldhouse will always be one of the biggest parts of him,” Teddy Owens told the Journal-Star. “Even though I only lived there for three years, it’ll always be home.”
Teddy said he’s excited to be in Allen Fieldhouse.
“That’s the biggest thing about why I’m excited about this weekend, to have (Ted) in there,” Teddy said. “I know I’m just the director of ops, but to my dad it’s like full circle. He was there coaching and now I’m there as a part of this. So it’s pretty special to him.”