University of Kansas

Why this KU team needs more out of Lagerald Vick

KU's Lagerald Vick (left) and teammate Udoke Azubuike battled Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis for a rebound in the first half of Saturday’s game at Allen Fieldhouse. KU beat A&M, 79-68.
KU's Lagerald Vick (left) and teammate Udoke Azubuike battled Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis for a rebound in the first half of Saturday’s game at Allen Fieldhouse. KU beat A&M, 79-68.

Lagerald Vick squints at the iPhone while sitting in the Allen Fieldhouse media room, watching his best play following Kansas’ 79-68 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday.

It happens so quickly. Vick crosses over from left to right, bursts with two steps, leaps at the top of the lane, then glides to the basket for a right-handed finger-roll over a defender.

“Just switched direction fast,” Vick says, his eyes on the screen. “Just seeing an open lane, and just took it.”

This matchup really isn’t fair. Not if you play it out on paper.

Texas A&M plays two big men, and the Aggies chose not to go smaller Saturday against KU’s four-guard lineup.

The math from here is pretty simple. One big man will guard 7-footer Udoka Azubuike. The other will have to go against one of KU’s guards.

Coach Billy Kennedy’s choice, based on the recent past, isn’t particularly difficult.

Devonté Graham is one of the nation’s best players, so you can’t put a big man on him. Svi Mykhailiuk is one of college’s best outside shooters, so he’s out as well.

Malik Newman also is on an uptick, looking more comfortable with his role while driving it better than he has in games past.

That leaves Vick as the lucky one offensively. On this play, he is first guarded by 6-foot-10 Robert Williams, then, after a ball screen, by 6-10 Tyler Davis.

Vick, who has NBA potential and All-America athleticism, just needs to take advantage. That play early in the second half when he got to the basket with ease? It was there for him most of the afternoon if he wanted it.

Too often, though, the guard remained stuck in his own head, choosing the safe play instead of the correct one.

“I thought he was better,” KU coach Bill Self said of Vick’s performance Saturday, “but I don’t think he put his handprint on the game.”

There were plenty of opportunities to do that.

Once was in the first half, when Self called a play for Vick three minutes in. Vick caught a pass at the top of the key and received a ball screen from Azubuike, with the court spaced to allow those two to make a play.

Vick, though, half-heartedly pump-faked, then took two cautious dribbles before passing out to Newman. Not only did he not put any pressure on the defense with his drive, he also didn’t look inside to Azubuike for a potential lob.

Self, though, was most furious with Vick late in the second half.

After receiving the ball at the top, Vick saw the 6-10 Williams square up to guard him. Worried about an outside shot, Williams put a hand up, and Vick needed just two not-particularly-quick dribbles to zoom past him on the drive.

Vick, though, pulled up. Just outside the lane — maybe 6 feet from the basket and unguarded — he turned his back on the rim and decided to lob a pass back to Graham near half-court.

After the next dead ball, Self stared down Vick without saying a word.

“In the first half, I thought he was effective and aggressive and those sorts of things,” Self said. “But in the second half, I didn’t really see that much aggressiveness.”

Vick was fine Saturday. He scored 10 points — actually tying his second-highest point total in Big 12 play — while making 4 of 9 shots.

The Jayhawks, though, need much more. They need the guy who almost effortlessly averaged 17 points through 12 games in the non-conference season. They need a fourth guard who can get to the paint off the bounce, which would create easy shots in the lane and also open attempts on the perimeter.

More than anything, the Jayhawks need to make “big” teams like Texas A&M pay for keeping two large bodies in the game. On defense, KU is the one left scrambling, as a tiny guard is forced to body up against someone bigger in the post, while the Jayhawks also are left at a rebounding disadvantage.

That’s just fine with Self as long as he can make up for it offensively. That means one of KU’s guards getting to attack a lead-footed forward in a one-on-one situation.

“We’re getting better driving downhill,” Self said. “If we could get Lagerald doing it, that’d be pretty complete.”

Vick has the skill. He has the ability. He has the support of the coaching staff, and he’s proved already this season that he can score as well as anyone on KU’s roster.

So the situation isn’t complicated anymore — not for Vick or for KU.

When the guard sees an open lane, he simply needs to take it.

KU's strong play in first half against Texas A&M led to 79-68 victory on Jan. 27, 2018.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell