Kansas’ basketball players huddled together in the locker room after allowing a whopping 88 points in Tuesday’s narrow 90-88 victory over rival Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Once coach (Bill Self) left, we just talked about how we’ve got to start coming into practice with a defensive mindset, not worrying about offense,” said KU junior guard Devonté Graham.
KU’s lackluster performance on defense against a KSU team that hit 50.8 percent of its shots dropped the Jayhawks to 131st nationally in scoring defense (69.9 points a game).
The Jayhawks have allowed 84.0 points a game through two Big 12 games, which ranks ninth in the league, just ahead of Oklahoma State’s 87.0 mark.
“We’ve got to start putting more pressure on ourselves to defend. We can’t just come out and try to outscore people. We’ve been doing that a lot,” Graham said.
KU at midweek ranked 12th nationally in scoring at a robust 86.8 ppg.
“We’ve got to start defending first, locking down and getting more steals. We’ve got to get that defensive mindset. Right now we don’t have it,” Graham added.
The Jayhawks, who swiped just two steals to Kansas State’s 10, have apparently turned their postgame words into actions — at least if Thursday morning’s practice was any indication.
“We had a good defensive practice today,” KU senior guard Frank Mason said. “I think we’ll use that moving forward. I think guys are giving a little bit more effort. Guys are getting in the right spots. They are on different rotations, taking different driving lanes away, trying to do everything the right way.”
Self spent a good portion of Thursday’s weekly media session discussing defense.
“In a nutshell, I would say ‘no,’ ’’ Self said, asked if anybody on the squad was playing defense the way he’d like. “I would say that everybody can get better, without question.”
He said his veteran guards must lead the way.
“I think if you cut the head off, people say that the body will follow,” Self said. “So I think most of the responsibility falls on Devonté and Frank (Mason) more than anybody else, because I think they can set the tone for everything.”
Mason said he and Graham will embrace a leadership role.
“We talked to coach about it. Me and Devonté talked about it. It starts with us on the defensive end,” Mason said. “We’ve got to cut the head off every game, picking up full court, making them (opposing guards) feel us, getting them uncomfortable.”
Self said, “we’re doing it all,” in terms of coaches motivating the players to step up the defensive intensity.
“I think you do it through film, you do it through talking, you do it through challenging, you do it through demanding,” Self said. “The guys certainly care, but I don’t think their actions show that they care as much as maybe what they think they do. I’m talking about strictly defense. They obviously care or they wouldn’t be ranked No. 2 in the country (in USA Today coaches poll; No. 3 in AP). But I think that the guys all see where we can get better.
“We just don’t have near enough activity and create opportunities for steals or deflections or poor possessions on the other team, because we basically are right now in a mode where we’ve let the other team run their stuff. We’ve always been a fairly disruptive team.”
Of course the team remains a work in progress, Self says.
“We don’t have any excuses. We’re just not doing it. But we’re going to get there. I say that with supreme confidence,” Self said. “We’re going to get to where we want to go, but that doesn’t guarantee success either, but it certainly puts us in a better position to have success.”
Self was asked by a media member Thursday to reveal “some of the most selfless defenders” he’s coached in 14 seasons at KU.
“Travis Releford was unreal. I thought Aaron Miles was terrific as well. We’ve had a ton,” Self said. “I think Tyshawn Taylor was one of the best defenders we’ve ever had here without question, (Jeff) Withey, Cole (Aldrich), those guys obviously did some good things.
“But we’ve had some teams that were really, really good that had some individual bad defenders. Thomas (Robinson) … he wouldn’t get close to his man in the first half because he was scared he was going to foul, because if he fouled, he may have to come out. So in his mindset, he was always nervous about that, but we needed him in the game offensively because we didn’t have a lot of firepower. We’ve had our fair share of (good defenders),” he added.
Self pinpointed the key to playing strong defense.
“I’ll put it to you like this: What was Devonté’s best game offensively last year? Without question at OU (27 points at Oklahoma),” Self said. “He was concerned about one thing the whole game, guarding Buddy (Hield). And when you think about it and you worry about the right things like that, I think that’s when you actually perform better on the other end.”
KU (13-1, 2-0 Big 12) will next meet Texas Tech (12-2, 1-1), a team that averages 79.8 ppg off 51.4 percent shooting, at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Self watches Trae Young score 40
Self watched blue-chip senior point guard prospect Trae Young score 40 points — 30 in the first half — in Norman (Okla.) North’s 120-42 victory over the OKC Knights (Homeschool team) Thursday afternoon at the McGuinness High School Classic in Oklahoma City. The 6-foot-2 Young, who is ranked No. 14 nationally in the recruiting Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, played just three quarters. He took a 44.4 scoring average into the game for (4-2) Norman North. Young is considering KU, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Diallo to announce Saturday
Hamidou Diallo, a 6-5 senior shooting guard from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, who once had KU on his list of schools, is expected to choose between Kentucky, Arizona and UConn, on Saturday, Zagsblog.com reports. He will enroll for second-semester classes. It has been reported that he’ll be immediately eligible. Rivals.com’s No. 10-ranked prospect is also eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft, as he has already graduated high school.