Kansas made this look easy. It’s not.
Set-play alley-oops aren’t common in college basketball, so it’s worth appreciating the finer details in the Jayhawks’ 100-62 victory over UC Davis on Friday night at BOK Center.
When shots weren’t falling, KU “took the lid off,” as coach Bill Self would say, with near-perfect execution of lobs.
It looks so simple in real time. It’s not.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” KU guard Devonté Graham said with a smile.
Start with this one, a set-play lob from Frank Mason to Josh Jackson midway through the first half. This one’s all about timing.
KU’s Josh Jackson stands in the corner and waits for the perfect moment … and then it happens. His defender, Chima Moneke, turns his head for just an instant, ball-watching Frank Mason at the top of the circle.
Mason, watching video replay on an iPhone seated in front of his locker, is quick to explain the nuances.
“I think we did a good job executing,” he said. “I saw the defender with his head turned, so he didn’t know where the ball was. Josh is really athletic, I threw it up, and he made a play.”
Through four years of practice, Mason has settled upon his own motion when it comes to lobs. Self likes to teach throwing it from above the head, but Mason has become more comfortable guiding it with two hands from his chest, where he feels like he has more control.
The target is always the same on lob passes: Self tells his guys to aim for the bottom corner of the backboard.
“‘Jump up and shoot an airball,’ as he would say,” Graham said. “Sometimes, you get caught up trying to be fancy and throw it with one hand or something like that, but we run it so much in practice and we work on throwing lobs at the beginning of the year, it’s kind of like second nature.”
That’s apparent on another set play later in the first half.
With this one, guard Lagerald Vick is in the corner waiting to make his move. His cue is to cut toward the basket when Graham swings the ball to Mason on the perimeter.
Vick doesn’t have to think about too much once he goes up for the pass. KU’s coaches always want players to catch with two hands, but the lob-catcher isn’t told he has to go up off two feet (though Vick does for this slam).
Graham and Mason both bring up something important on the rewatch: center Landen Lucas is the key, as he nudges UC Davis’ Garrison Goode — playing in the back of his team’s 2-3 zone — up enough to clear the lane for Vick.
“Lando just setting a good screen,” Graham said. “Lagerald with a great catch, because that was a super-high pass.”
Added Mason: “I saw Landen set a great screen once again. Moneke lost sight of Vick, and he went up and got the ball.”
The play was part of a 29-4 run that helped spark some energy in a previously quiet building.
“Bringing the crowd into it,” Vick said. “They love to see exciting things. It definitely helps us out.”
There were more lobs in the second half — one from Jackson to Lucas, another from Mason to Jackson — as KU continued to make a difficult basketball play look simple.
A lot went into those easy points Friday. That included a future hall-of-fame coach crafting plays to beat both man and zone defenses, guards delivering accurate passes helped by repetition, big men setting solid screens and teammates cutting to the basket at the opportune moment.
“It takes a whole bunch of stuff,” Graham said.
And those finer details are worth appreciating.