Bill Self is a numbers guy. He may try to conceal this fact from time to time, shielding himself in a guise of toughness, offering never-ending rhetoric about defense and rebounding and finding ways to win basketball games in ugly fashion.
But beneath the surface, Self’s mind operates like a steel trap, processing box scores in a matter of seconds, calculating such numbers as rebounding percentages and turnover percentages and all sorts of basketball minutiae in the moments before postgame newsconferences.
On Monday night here in Lahaina, less than 24 hours before No. 5 Kansas would demolish UCLA 92-73 in the Maui Invitational semifinals on Tuesday, Self sat in the media room and pondered a question his team’s proclivity to clip off rounds from three-point range in this young season. The Jayhawks had fired up 29 attempts from three on Monday, making 15, and Self, a coach who relishes playing inside-out basketball, was asked if he was comfortable with the three-point heavy offense.
“Instead of looking at how many threes you shoot,” Self said, “you look at what percentage of threes you shot (compared to your total field goal attempts).”
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A second later, Self glanced down at a box score and did the math in his head. The Jayhawks had taken close to 38 percent of their shots from three.
“So that is a lot of threes,” Self said.
But here, of course, is the thing: After another dazzling offensive performance on Tuesday, after another night of cranking the pace and letting it fly, this may be a calculation Self is forced to make all season long. One night after putting up the most points of the Self era, the Jayhawks ran a Pac-12 program out the gym in the first half, burying the Bruins with a lethal blend of three-point bombs and senior forward Perry Ellis.
When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Jayhawks led 59-33. The technical knockout was in progress. Just like four years ago in Maui, Kansas was set to roll over UCLA in the tournament semifinals.
“That’s about as well as we can play offensively,” Self said. “We scored 59, and to be candid with you, Svi (Mykhailiuk) didn’t shoot the ball well at all. He had like six wide open looks.”
Self could afford to nitpick on Tuesday. The Jayhawks, 3-1, were far from perfect during the second half — Self called it “H-O-R-S-E contest” — with each team trading buckets. But for 20 minutes, the Jayhawks’ put on an run-and-gun display that could make anyone wonder: Is this Self’s best offensive team in years?
“You score 59 points in a half, you’re doing a lot of good things,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Because you’re offense is clicking. They have five or six guys that make threes, and their guards do a very good job.
“They do a good job of dictating the pace. They can play at a really high-level pace.”
When the blowout was done, Ellis had finished with a season-high 24 points while drilling 9 of 12 from the field, and the Jayhawks clipped off another 23 three-point attempts, hitting 10 threes on the night. For the season, the Jayhawks are taking more than 34 percent of their shots from three-point range. This is, in part, because they have seen plenty of zone here in Maui. But that number would also be the highest three-point attempt rate of the Self era, and for the moment, it appears to be a winning formula.
In 80 minutes of basketball here in Maui, the Jayhawks have put up 215 points, and they will carry their torrid offensive pace into Wednesday’s championship game, where they will meet No. 19 Vanderbilt, which is 5-0 after a victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday.
“It’s been really fun,” said sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham, who finished with nine points and three assists while helping limit UCLA shooter Bryce Alford to just one field goal.
In the opening half Tuesday, Kansas offered a master class in breaking down the UCLA zone. The Jayhawks shot 57 percent from the floor, buried eight three-pointers, and junior guard Frank Mason cut up the Bruins’ defense with a series of crisp passes and playmaking. In one sequence, Mason assisted on three straight three-pointers. When the night was over, he had finished with 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
For much of the night, Wayne Selden was the primary beneficiary of Mason’s brilliant work in the backcourt Selden drilled 4 of 5 from three-point range, finished with 15 points and stream-lined his offense game, limiting his turnovers (one) and wasteful drives to the basket.
“We know each other’s tendencies,” Ellis said. “It’s just going to be a great year.”
All offseason, Self spoke of wanting to play Mason and Graham together, of unleashing an offense with two small guards and getting back to the way the Jayhawks used to play. This offensive explosion stems from that decision, of course, but Self says it’s more than that. Over the years, his offense has evolved from a stationary high-low to a system that relies on ball screens. This team, he says, is perfectly suited to play off the dribble.
“You need more guys that can make plays off the bounce,” Self said. “The ball is the hardest thing to guard in college basketball. We used to be a team that scores off the catch. Now we’re a team that scores off the bounce a lot more.”
Earlier on Tuesday night, before Kansas advanced, Vanderbilt wiped out Wake Forest 86-64, erasing the prospect of Kansas icon and current Wake coach Danny Manning meeting KU in the Maui final. The Commodores, though, offer their own intrigue. Vanderbilt was picked to finish second in the Southeast Conference, behind No. 1 Kentucky, and Vandy coach Kevin Stallings once spent five years as a KU assistant to Roy Williams from 1988 to 1993.
The Jayhawks, in fact, haven’t played Vanderbilt since December 1997, when the two teams met at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. That will change on Wednesday, and Vanderbilt will attempt to do what Chaminade and UCLA could not: Stop a ferocious Kansas offense.
“It all starts on the defensive end,” Graham said. “Coach (Self) just preaches defense, defense, defense. Once we play good defense, he just wants us to run.”
No. 5 KANSAS 92, UCLA 73
Kansas (3-1): Traylor 2-4 2-2 6, Ellis 9-12 4-4 24, Mason III 4-7 8-9 16, Selden Jr. 5-8 1-1 15, Graham 4-8 0-0 9, Vick 1-1 0-0 3, Manning 0-0 0-0 0, Mykhailiuk 5-13 1-2 13, Self 0-1 0-0 0, Bragg Jr. 1-2 0-1 2, Young 0-0 0-0 0, Lucas 1-2 2-2 4, Mickelson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 32-59 18-21 92.
UCLA (3-2): Parker 5-8 5-6 15, Welsh 3-8 0-2 6, Holiday 5-12 4-4 16, Hamilton 8-13 2-3 19, Alford 1-6 4-4 6, Olesinski 0-3 0-1 0, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Ali 4-7 0-1 8, J. Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Wulff 0-0 0-0 0, Bolden 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 27-59 15-21 73.
Half: Kansas 59-33. Three-Point Goals: Kansas 10-23 (Selden Jr. 4-5, Ellis 2-3, Mykhailiuk 2-9, Vick 1-1, Graham 1-2, Self 0-1, Mason III 0-2), UCLA 4-17 (Holiday 2-5, Bolden 1-2, Hamilton 1-4, Ali 0-1, Olesinski 0-2, Alford 0-3). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Kansas 35 (Ellis 6), UCLA 28 (Parker 8). Assists: Kansas 19 (Mason III 7), UCLA 11 (Holiday 3). Total Fouls: Kansas 20, UCLA 18. Technical: Parker. Att: 2,400.