Texas’ Mohamed Bamba rejected as many shots against Kansas on Friday night as Oregon’s Jordan Bell and Duke’s Shane Battier swatted in past NCAA Tournament victories over the Jayhawks.
Bamba, a 6-foot-11 freshman from Harlem in New York, had eight blocks, tying Bell and Battier for most blocks registered in a single game against KU.
“That guy could have blocked the sun,” KU coach Bill Self said after watching the former McDonald’s All-American approach a triple double by scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds to go with the eight blocks in the Jayhawks’ 92-86 victory at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
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Self’s Jayhawks were able to combat Bamba’s inside presence by connecting on a batch of outside shots. KU hit 17 of 35 three-pointers — the most threes made by the Jayhawks in a conference game and two off the school record of 19 set against Texas Southern earlier this season.
KU by comparison was 5 of 25 from three in last March’s 75-60 Elite Eight loss to Bell’s Oregon Ducks. Roy Williams’ Jayhawks made 6 of 17 treys in a 69-64 second-round loss to Battier’s Blue Devils in March 2000.
It’s obvious three-pointers can more than make up for deficiencies in other areas.
“That was probably one of the best three-point exhibitions, if you want to call it that, I’ve ever seen in my life. They caught fire and it was kind of hard to defend even when you’ve got a hand up, even when you close out as hard as you do,” Bamba said after the three-point onslaught.
“It definitely shifted the energy of the game, but we came down and tried to make plays ourselves and we just kept closing it and closing it. That’s just something we need to work on, is having responses to things like that.”
Texas coach Shaka Smart, who fell to 0-5 against KU as Longhorns coach (he was 1-0 vs. KU at VCU), said of three-pointers: “We always say to our team, ‘They’re not going to beat us with those. They can’t make enough of those to beat us.’ But a team like Kansas, if you get a half step off or lose energy for a stretch of a minute or two, they make you pay and they can beat you with those, and they did.”
KU, which is relying on the three this season more than past campaigns in the 15-year Self era, utilized a seldom-used 2-3 zone to frustrate the Texas offense Friday.
“We tried to use it the first half when we knew they had rhythm,” Self said.
KU went into the zone with a 28-25 lead with about 6 minutes left in the first half. The Jayhawks led 37-34 at the break.
“We played zone pretty much the rest of the game except late-clock situations, except for side out of bounds, out of bounds under. Except for the first 2 or 3 minutes of the second half, we played primarily zone,” Self said.
He said playing zone slowed the pace of the game and saved the legs of his seven scholarship players. Self decided to not play transfer guard Sam Cunliffe, primarily he indicated, because of how well the other guards were playing.
“The 2-3 zone helped us out big-time,” KU senior guard Devonté Graham said. “At one point we were trading baskets. I know it’s fun to watch, but we need to lock in defensively and start getting more stops.”
KU junior Lagerald Vick said the Jayhawks have been practicing zone “about 45 minutes (per workout).”
“It was cool,” Vick said of using the zone in a game, “just talking, communicating with each other, being aware of where shooters are at, trying to keep the big fella (Bamba) from getting the ball. It definitely helps us maintain energy.”
That was important Friday with Udoka Azubuike hobbled because of a bad back.
“It helped us a lot. The 2-3 zone was helpful,” Azubuike said. “We’ve been going to it in practice. We are basically a man team. Today it helped us a lot.”
The Jayhawks, who are in pursuit of a 14th-straight Big 12 title, will carry a 1-0 league record and 11-2 overall mark into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. home opener against Texas Tech. The No. 22 Red Raiders improved to 12-1 by bashing Baylor (10-3) 77-53 on Friday in Lubbock, Texas. Tech led that game 40-19 at halftime.
“It’s a road win. It’s going to help us out in the long run,” Vick said of Friday’s victory.
KU players hold Saturday clinic
The Jayhawk players and coaches, who returned via charter from Texas after Friday night’s game, on Saturday afternoon held their annual clinic for boys and girls first through sixth grades at Allen Fieldhouse, Horejsi Center and the KU practice facility. In all, 700 youths attended the clinic.
KU’s players worked with the youths on fundamentals. The clinic ended with an autograph/photo session with the team.