Kansas forward Dwight Coleby on Saturday went from playing 4 minutes total in the last 10 games to logging an important 10 minutes against No. 4 Kentucky at hostile Rupp Arena.
While acknowledging his role is different — “this has never happened before,” said Coleby, who was part of the regular rotation in his two seasons at Mississippi before transferring to KU after his sophomore season — it’s not been deflating.
“It felt great (being on the court),” the 6-foot-9, 240-pound junior from Nassau, Bahamas, said of his playing time in the arena in downtown Lexington, Ky.
“I’ve played in here two times already. I really had a feel of what was going on and how it was going to be,” Coleby added after scoring three points with one rebound and one steal in the second-ranked Jayhawks’ 79-73 victory over the Wildcats.
Coleby had been told to be ready for possible playing time by coach Bill Self, who was in need of bigs Saturday following the suspension of sophomore forward Carlton Bragg for violation of team rules.
“I’m just working my way back in there. I’m focusing on defense and letting everything else come. I have to continue to stay focused,” Coleby said. He picked up four fouls in his active 10-minute stint.
Coleby has been slow to recover from left ACL surgery that sidelined him during the 2015-16 season — his redshirt season at KU. Entering Saturday’s game he’d averaged 5.2 minutes in just 11 appearances. He had scored 12 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.
“I’m good. It (knee) is fine,” Coleby said Saturday, indicating the strength of his knee would “be in the 90s (percentile). I’ve not played that much. This should build my confidence in playing the rest of the games.”
Coleby and freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot — who had zero points, one rebound and one block in 4 minutes — were both needed to give a breather or two to senior forward Landen Lucas, who scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting with five rebounds, a block and steal in 27 minutes. Kentucky freshman big man Edrice “Bam” Adebayo scored 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting (4 of 10 from the line) with eight rebounds, three assists and four turnovers in 37 minutes.
“He’s been playing so long. He’s one of the best sealers there is,” Coleby said of the 6-10 Portland, Ore., native Lucas. “He knows how to get angles. He just knows where to be, the right spots. I watch him. I always ask him how he does it. I’m trying to learn how to do it, too.”
Lightfoot, a 6-8 freshman from Gilbert, Ariz., also praised Lucas after KU’s 19th victory in 21 tries. Kentucky fell to 17-4.
“He does a great job with me. He’s been a great mentor,” Lightfoot said of Lucas. “I’m adjusting to the 5 (center spot), right now. I learned the 4 (power forward) earlier in the year. Now we need me in a little different spot.
“I’m learning from him. I try to keep asking him questions. He knows everything. That man has been here, done that, so I just have to keep learning from him, absorbing everything I can.”
Lightfoot said the 5 and 4 positions are somewhat similar.
“I’ve just got to be better getting plays down. I’m going to go back, go over plays and be better next game,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot was impressed with the play of KU freshman guard Josh Jackson, who scored 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting with 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two turnovers in 39 minutes. Jackson’s two three-pointers to open the second half erased a five-point deficit and also took the lid off the goal for a KU team that was 0 for 8 on threes in the first half. KU finished 5 of 19 from beyond the arc.
“Wow,” Lightfoot said. “He just showed you guys why he’s going to be a top-five pick in the draft. There’s no doubt in that. He’s an amazing player, but amazing kid, too. I love being friends with him.”
Self on the victory
Self reiterated that the win in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge game was important, but in reality was merely one nonconference victory in the middle of the conference season.
“It’s a big win. I don’t think it registers big,” Self said. “I’d rather beat Baylor on Wednesday (8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse) than win tonight if you had to pick one of the two.
“Obviously it means a lot to our fan base. Certainly people were excited to see it. I think our guys like playing in that atmosphere. I told our guys it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t gather momentum from this and build on it. I think our guys are excited, not that we played great, but didn’t play great and fought through it and won the game.”
Kentucky players on the game
“I just think we didn’t play winning basketball down the stretch. Up to a point I think we had them down 10 points maybe (Kentucky led by 12 three times the first half). It was looking real good and you could feel the energy,” said senior forward Derek Willis, who hit five threes in six tries and scored 18 points.
“It just felt like we wanted to break away. Then we just let them back in the game, and they started getting their confidence back thinking they could play with us. That’s just how it goes, and they ended up coming up with the right plays. That’s why they won the game.”
Kentucky sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, said: “We’re just not there yet. We have a team full of freshman and sophomores. Today, Kansas’ experience showed. They were down and kept fighting. I give them credit, but a lot of that is on us.”