Kansas coach Bill Self has a rule for throwing alley-oop lobs: aim for the bottom corner of the backboard.
So yes, Devonté Graham admits his second-half pass to Lagerald Vick was way off.
“I’ve been throwing pretty bad alley-oops lately in a couple games, throwing it too far back,” Graham said. “When I threw it to him, I thought he wasn’t going to catch it.”
There was good reason. A television replay from the opposite baseline shows Graham, who was accurate enough shooting-wise to tie a career-high with 35 points in KU’s 76-60 victory over Syracuse on Saturday, missed his mark by at least 2 feet to the right.
That wasn’t a problem.
“It was just something about that one right there,” Vick said. “I just wanted that one.”
Vick got it. With 7:45 left in the second half, he extended back with his off hand, cupping the ball and redirecting it in one motion for an alley-oop slam that few basketball players — college or pro — would have been able to execute.
“Hopefully, it’ll make SportsCenter,” Graham said with a laugh.
It was just part of an impressive KU victory that left Self happy but still wanting more.
The Jayhawks defeated a decent Syracuse team on a neutral floor with only a few guys playing well: Graham, Vick and walk-on Clay Young. Svi Mykhailiuk made threes but wasn’t as active as normal. And what if Malik Newman had a better game? Or KU’s two true big men?
Udoka Azubuike in particular struggled, not knowing where to go on numerous set plays. He also played tentatively as a rim-protector in the second half, perhaps scared that his next whistle would take him out of the game. Mitch Lightfoot was inconsistent too, facing heavy foul trouble when KU desperately needed him to avoid it.
Through it all, though, the Jayhawks won by 16. They overcame a poor shooting start, 16 turnovers and some sloppy defensive possessions in the second half.
Graham was the biggest reason. His offseason work to extend his shooting range was critical, as many of his outside shots over the zone also would have been worth three in Sunday’s NBA game.
Self also had his team prepared. Remember that Vick alley-oop dunk in the second half? KU ran that play over ...
and over ...
and over ...
with Syracuse failing to make the proper adjustment.
The Jayhawks survived playing 9 minutes in the first half with a 6-foot-5 walk-on in Young guarding a 7-2 post player. They worked around fatigue late and attacked unexpected Syracuse pressure to get some easy points.
KU might not have played great. But its average game against a national power still showed plenty.