Displeased with Kansas sophomore guard Malik Newman’s defense through the first four games of the season, Bill Self challenged the Mississippi State transfer in an unconventional way Friday night.
He assigned the 6-foot-3 Newman to Oakland’s best offensive player, 6-4 senior Kendrick Nunn.
“I thought Malik played one of his better games without question,” Self, KU’s 15th-year coach, said after the Jayhawks’ 102-59 victory over the Golden Grizzlies. “He hasn’t been very good on the defensive end to be blunt. I put him on Nunn to start with on purpose. For the most part, he did a better job. I was pleased with that.”
Nunn, who entered with a 24.8 points-per-game average, scored 13 points in the first half on 6-of-15 shooting (just 1 of 5 threes) as the Jayhawks opened a 55-26 halftime lead.
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Nunn finished with 23 points on 10-of-21 shooting (3 of 9 from three), while Newman countered with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting (1 of 3 threes) with six rebounds, three assists, three turnovers and two steals in 31 minutes.
“He guarded a little better. That’s the first time ever,” Self said jokingly of Newman.
Newman, as Self hoped would be the case, took his defensive matchup seriously.
“I just tried to make it hard for him,” Newman said. “I really paid attention to the scout (report). I think I did a little bit better, at least I tried.”
Newman, who has averaged 12.8 points and 4.6 rebounds a game for the Jayhawks (5-0), did not neglect his offense Friday. He worked through contact to drive into the paint, took defender Nunn straight up and basically shoved the ball into the hoop as he was hacked by Nunn on a highlight-reel play in the second half.
“Shout out to Hudy,” Newman said of KU strength coach Andrea Hudy. “For real, it’s a lot having to do with Hudy. The year sitting out (after leaving Mississippi State) … I had a chance to work with her the whole year with no pressure on me, working on my body strength and athleticism. It’s all credit to Hudy for that.”
Newman also was responsible for one of the six dunks of 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who scored a career-high 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting (1 of 4 from the line). Azubuike has made 77.6 percent of his shots and 40 percent of his free throws through five games.
“With (the) big fella, a bad lob is a good lob,” Newman said. “He’s always an outlet for when we’re in trouble. Throw it by the rim and he will go get it for us.”
KU’s seven scholarship players scored in double figures for the second straight game as the Jayhawks scored more than 100 points for the second straight game.
The last time Kansas scored 100 or more points in back-to-back 40-minute contests was on Jan. 2 and 4, 2003,when KU beat UNC Asheville 102-50 and UMKC 100-46. KU topped the century mark in back-to-back games (Oklahoma and Baylor) in 2015-16, but the 109-point Oklahoma game went three overtimes.
The last time KU had at least seven double-digit scorers in consecutive games was in 1988-89. Kansas had seven double-figure scorers against Brown on Jan. 3, 1989, and followed that with nine double-figure scorers in a 127-82 victory over Iowa State on Jan. 7, 1989.
“Coach Self’s favorite motto (is), ‘You can never play too fast. You can never play too aggressive,’ ” Newman said. “The offense we run is based off guards, even though we do get the ball into the bigs. If we can come down and make a play for someone, that’s awesome. At all times, you have four good guards on the court surrounded by a great big.
“It makes the game easier for whoever the big is. We always have four guards that can make the game easier for those guys (bigs). The good part is we are all about the same size. We all can switch on ball screens. We are all tough enough to guard the post. We all are tough enough to get in there and rebound. The good thing about that is we can can get in there and rebound and we can start the break, get it and go.”
De Sousa update
Silvio De Sousa, a 6-9 senior forward from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is still planning on playing for KU in the second semester after graduating in December.
“I don’t know when we’ll have something (official) on Silvio. He has not qualified yet. He has to finish what he’s doing. He will take the (standardized) test again next Saturday just to try to improve (his score) as insurance,” Self said Friday night.
De Sousa’s test scores will be matched against his performance in core courses to see if he’s eligible for competition.