Kansas’ basketball players wanted to discuss defense after hitting the century mark on offense in a first-round NCAA Tournament Midwest Region contest against UC Davis on Friday night at BOK Center.
The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks, who had stewed for eight days after getting torched in an 85-82 Big 12 tournament quarterfinal loss to TCU at the Sprint Center, held No. 16 seed UC Davis to 33.9 percent shooting in an 100-62 victory.
“Focus,” KU coach Bill Self said simply, when asked to pinpoint the reason for the Jayhawks’ best defensive effort since holding Georgia to 31.7 percent shooting in a 65-54 victory in the fifth game of the season on Nov. 22 at the Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks (29-4) — who were led by Frank Mason’s 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds; Josh Jackson’s 17 points and seven boards; Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk’s 16 points; and Landen Lucas’ 13 points and 11 rebounds — held the Aggies (23-13) to 4 of 20 shooting beyond the three-point line in advancing to Sunday’s second-round game against Michigan State.
“We locked in as a team,” Mason said. “We talked about it up to today that we have to guard like it’s the last possession in a tie game. We did a good job of defending.”
The Jayhawks, who led 50-28 at the half thanks to a 29-7 run in the final 7:51 that broke open a 21-21 game, held the Aggies to 28.1 percent shooting in the initial half.
“It was more of an emphasis,” senior forward Lucas said of defense. “We switched some things up on ball-screen defense. It was obviously an emphasis for him (Self). He made sure there were no small mistakes, that everybody was focused and we had no letups on that end.”
Lucas, who hit 6 of 10 shots on a night the Jayhawks cashed 56.3 percent of their shots — along with 11 of 25 threes and 17 of 20 free throws — said improved defense was a big factor Friday.
“Our offense, we were kind of expecting to be there either way,” Lucas said. “Our defense … coming off the TCU game we were really in question about it. The way we played after the first 10 minutes tonight was pretty good the rest of the game.”
Mason said defense has “been stressed since Day One. But definitely since we took the loss against TCU we wanted to get out there, practice hard and focus on the defensive end.”
KU freshman guard Jackson scored four points off a reverse layup and spectacular left-handed scoop shot and Mason had four points in a 10-0 surge that stretched to 17-1 and 29-7 by the end of the first half. Two of Mason’s points were free throws following a technical foul on UC Davis coach Jim Les.
Mason and Mykhailiuk each had six points in that game-breaking 29-7 run, while Graham had five and Jackson added four points.
“I would say defense,” said Mykhailiuk, who hit 2 of 7 threes to Graham’s 4 of 7, of the key to that half-ending blitz. “We got a couple of rebounds, blocks, made easy baskets. We definitely tried to get better after the last game. Our defense was good today, but they still got some open looks.”
Mykhailiuk had one of the feel-good moments of the lopsided contest.
He hit a three that barely beat the shot-clock buzzer with 11:10 left, upping KU’s lead to 77-43.
“I heard the crowd go, ‘Two, One.’ I had to shoot it,” Svi said of the three. He smiled widely after hitting the shot. “I had to shoot it. I was lucky it went in.”
KU senior Tyler Self , who scored a career-high five points while playing 3 minutes, knocked down a three with 20.9 seconds left to account for KU’s 98th, 99th and 100th points.
“Definitely a cool moment,” Tyler Self said. “I was born here (his dad coached at both Tulsa and Oral Roberts). It’s definitely cool to do it in your hometown, so to say. I’m just glad we really brought it tonight and played well and got some good momentum going forward.”
Self and Mykhailiuk’s buckets were fun for the Jayhawks to discuss in the locker room after the lopsided No. 1 vs. 16 game. KU’s victory, which followed wins by No. 1 seeds Villanova, North Carolina and Gonzaga, upped the No. 1 seeds’ record over No. 16s to 132-0 all-time.
“I’ve been spoiled because I’ve had a chance to be around him every day for the last five years,” Bill Self said of his son. “And you can’t make up for lost time, but that’s certainly something that’s been a blessing for me.
“To see him out there and have some success is always good, but whether the ball goes in or not, it really doesn’t change anything from my perspective. It probably does from his. But it was nice to see and the guys were all happy for him because they know he’s paid a pretty big price over the last five years.”
Self said it was nice that 12 players were able to enter the game. Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot played 7 and 6 minutes, respectively — Coleby had a bucket and three rebounds — while Carlton Bragg had six points and five boards in 13 minutes. Lagerald Vick came off the bench to score three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 25 minutes.
“I thought we were sound how we played,” Bill Self said. “Certainly we didn’t play guys as many minutes (Mykhailiuk led the way with 32 minutes, Mason and Graham played 31 and Jackson was in for 23). The reality is we needed to have some fun out there today, too. I wanted them to play as much as they could to enjoy it. We’d not played much in the last couple of weeks. It was important to get guys minutes but also important to play the game the right way. I think we actually did that the entire game.”