It looks as if Kansas coach Bill Self was correct when he said the Big 12 Conference was going to be a “monster” this season.
His Jayhawks on Friday night received a stern test in the league opener from TCU, the team picked to finish last in the league in the preseason coaches poll. The Jayhawks prevailed 86-80 behind 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds from Landen Lucas, as well as 22 points from Frank Mason, 17 from Lagerald Vick, 12 from Svi Mykhailiuk and 11 from Devonté Graham.
It was a narrow victory for KU (12-1), which trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, eventually recovering to lead the Frogs (11-2) at the break, 48-44.
The Jayhawks, who have started their quest for a 13th-straight regular-season conference crown, overcame a stellar effort from forward Vlad Brodziansky, who scored a career-high 28 points before a sellout crowd of 6,700 in Schollmaier Arena.
The victory was assured in large part because of the gritty effort of senior forward Lucas.
“Coming into this game there was a lot of talk of how good a rebounding team they were,” Lucas said. “I emphasized getting on the glass. I’ve always taken pride in that. This year I got off to a poor start in rebounding. With a fresh season and the Big 12 coming around, I wanted to get back to doing that.”
This was a game in which Josh Jackson picked up his third foul in trying to grab an offensive rebound and immediate fourth foul when he was tooted for a technical in bouncing the ball hard in protest with 18:07 left, KU leading 50-46. Self also received a technical on the play sending TCU’s Brodziansky to the line for four free throws. He made three and cut the gap to 50-49.
Jackson fouled out with 4:28 left and had just four points in 12 minutes in his Big 12 debut.
KU did hit 20 of 25 free throws in the victory while canning 43.3 percent of its floor shots.
“It was good. Toward the end we didn’t make some big ones, myself included,” Lucas said of free throws. “We’ve got to work on that. It’s something we’ve been working on at practice. It’s something we know we’ve got to get better at.”
Of the victory, Self said: “We can complain we didn’t play very well. There’s a reason we didn’t. I think TCU is good. They were quicker than us certainly early on. They played smarter than us. We made enough shots to create enough separation so that our mistakes down the stretch didn’t cost us. They (Frogs) have good players and will continue to get better.”
Of Lucas, Self said: “Landen was good on the glass. Now his man got 28 and he’s a defensive stopper. They weren’t all on him and not all his fault. We didn’t do a good job on our ball screen defense at all. Landen had his best game this year without question.”
Self was not pleased with KU’s defense, saying “we don’t guard.”
Mason and Vick scored 12 points apiece, while Lucas grabbed 10 rebounds and chipped in eight points as KU led, 48-44, at halftime.
It’s remarkable the Jayhawks finished just shy of 50 points the initial half, considering they missed 13 of their first 16 shots.
KU went 15 of 20 the final 12 minutes and wound up erasing a double-digit first-half deficit. TCU, which was paced by forward Brodziansky’s 15 first-half points, led by as many as 10 points (17-7 and 22-12).
The Horned Frogs stormed to a 7-0 lead, forcing KU coach Self to call a time out just 3:02 into the game. Brodziansky had four points, including a drive and dunk in the game-opening run. KU missed its first seven shots, finally scoring at 16:45 on a dunk by Lucas.
However, the Frogs upped their margin to 11-2, 14-5 and 17-7. The Jayhawks, who trailed 22-12 at 11:11, used a 14-4 run to tie the contest at 26. The run extended to 24-8 and KU led 36-30 at the five-minute mark. Mason had six points and Vick four in the 14-4 surge. Mason had eight points, Mykhailiuk six and Lucas four overall in the 24-8 run.
Both teams hit five threes the first half, KU going 5 of 13 and TCU 5 of 8. KU hit 7 of 8 free throws; TCU 11 of 13 the first half.
Kansas entered Friday’s game with a 12-1 record all-time against TCU. The Jayhawks had won eight straight in the series.
The Jayhawks will next meet Kansas State at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Allen Fieldhouse. That game will mark KU’s 250th straight home sellout.
KU will have a recruiting visitor for the KSU game in former Arizona State player Sam Cunliffe, a 6-6 shooting guard out of Seattle’s Rainier Beach High. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while starting 10 games before electing to leave ASU halfway through his freshman year.
Cunliffe was scheduled to be at Georgetown this weekend prior to the KU visit. He will visit Seattle University on Jan. 5. Cunliffe was ranked No. 36 in the recruiting Class of 2016 by Rivals.com. If he enrolls for second-semester classes, he’ll be eligible as a sophomore starting second semster of the 2017-18 season.
KU has won 46 consecutive games in Allen Fieldhouse, fourth-longest streak in fieldhouse history. Kansas has an overall homecourt win streak of 49 games, which according to NCAA rules, includes three regular-season games contested in Sprint Center.
K-State, which opened Big 12 play with a 65-62 win against Texas on Friday in Manhattan, went 11-1 in the nonconference season.