Kansas had been outrebounded in every Big 12 Conference game this season and 13 of 21 contests overall entering Monday night’s Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan.
Sparked by the 24 rebounds of KU’s four starting guards, the No. 7 Jayhawks (18-4, 7-2) finally won the board battle, 41-31, in a 70-56 victory over Kansas State (16-6, 5-4) at Bramlage Coliseum.
The last time the Jayhawks had outrebounded an opponent was against Omaha on Dec. 18 at Allen Fieldhouse. K-State outrebounded KU 27-25 in the Jayhawks’ 73-72 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 13 in Lawrence.
“I think we did a great job crashing the boards and keeping those guys off the glass. We went in trying to help the big fella (Udoka Azubuike, three boards) and make it easier on him. I think we did a great job of that,” said 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Malik Newman. He grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and has had seven or more boards in three of the last four games.
Newman — who hit 6 of 7 free throws and scored 13 points with three assists in 40 minutes — has averaged 5.1 rebounds per game this season, 5.3 per game in Big 12 play.
“I try to see where the ball is going, try to get there and use my quick-jumping ability before anybody else can react to it,” Newman said of his defensive rebounding. All 10 of his boards Monday were on the defensive end.
“He’s going (to the glass). He’s certainly attacking the ball as well as anybody we have defensively,” KU coach Bill Self said of Newman.
Svi Mykhailiuk, who scored a game-high 22 points, contributed seven rebounds, while guards Lagerald Vick had four and Devonté Graham three. Forward Mitch Lightfoot added five rebounds in 20 minutes, while guard Sam Cunliffe had two in 6 minutes.
“It’s huge for the big guys,” Lightfoot said of the guards rebounding. “It allows us to box out. If they have a big that is maybe more a threat on the offensive glass than others, it allows us to focus on boxing him out and letting the guards get the rebounds.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who gets the rebound except KU gets the rebound. It lets us focus on defensive rebounding.”
KU’s man-to-man and 2-3 zone defenses held Kansas State to 32.3 percent shooting overall (21 of 65) and 22.2 percent from three (6 of 27). K-State is first in the Big 12 (league games only) in field-goal percentage (48.2) and third in three-point field-goal percentage (39.6).
“We wanted to come out and play hard. We knew those guys were one of the top shooting teams in the conference,” Newman said. “We wanted to make all the shots hard for them. We did a good job.”
KU is first in Big 12 games only in three-point field-goal percentage defense (29.1) and second in field-goal percentage defense (42.2).
“I think it was just team effort of us wanting to guard,” Lightfoot said. “We have the ability as a team to not let them score. It’s more a mentality. Coach preaches defensive mentality. Defense travels. We took that to heart and got stops.”
KU’s offense had mixed results. The Jayhawks hit 70 percent of their shots (including 6 of 9 threes) in the first half while building a 40-27 halftime lead. KU missed its first 11 shots of the final half and finished at 26.9 percent overall (3 of 11 from three) in the final 20 minutes, still attaining a comfortable victory margin.
“It’s not too often you go 14 for 20 from the field and 6 of 9 from three on the road,” Self said, quickly adding, “It was not because of our offense we won the game. We were stale. We happened to get stops. It was our best rebounding effort in quite some time.”
KU this weekend will celebrate its 120 years of basketball by hosting players, coaches and staff from every era of Jayhawks hoops.
All players have been invited back to be recognized during the KU-Oklahoma State game, set for an 11 a.m. tipoff Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The weekend’s festivities also will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of KU’s 1988 national title team.
“Anytime you have a bunch of old timers who are alums coming back adds to the excitement of the weekend. It should be a fun weekend,” Self said.
Preston’s pro debut
Former KU forward Billy Preston scored two points on 1-of-3 shooting with two assists, a rebound and a steal in BC Igokea’s 94-92 win over Zadar of Croatia on Monday in Adriatic League action. The 6-foot-10 Preston had three fouls in 6 minutes. His next game is Friday night.
In response to draftexpress.com’s Jonathan Givony’s Tweet about Preston’s “tough debut” in Bosnia, Preston’s mom, Nicole Player, wrote on Twitter: “Chill, he played 6 mins TOTAL. We JUST got here a day ago. He’s had ONE practice. And if you were here, you’d know as soon as he got on the floor at 5:18 of the 2nd quarter mark … steal, 2 assists, an open jumper all in 3 mins. And played limited mins in 2nd.”