University of Kansas

How a Bill Self observation contributed to KU's game-ending run over Duke

Bill Self on reaching the Final Four: 'It feels unbelievable'

Kansas coach Bill Self at a news conference after the Jayhawks beat the Duke Blue Devils 85-81 in overtime on March 25, 2018, in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and advanced to the Final Four in San Antonio.
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Kansas coach Bill Self at a news conference after the Jayhawks beat the Duke Blue Devils 85-81 in overtime on March 25, 2018, in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and advanced to the Final Four in San Antonio.

The moment wasn't likely captured on TV, but it's worth pointing out all the same.

One could list a million reasons why Kansas ended up defeating Duke 85-81 on Sunday night, advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four.

At a critical point, though, KU coach Bill Self said the right words. And just after that, the game turned for the Jayhawks.

It started with what seemed like a standard basketball play — at least to my eyes.

With the score tied at 76 and 2:40 left in OT, Duke's Trevon Duval curled around a ball screen from Javin DeLaurier, turning the corner before putting in a layup over KU's Silvio De Sousa.

Duval drive

Self saw something from his spot on the KU bench about 50 feet away. At the time, it wasn't something he could communicate effectively.

Malik Newman, though, gave him the chance.

On the next possession, Newman split two Duke defenders on a drive, slashing to the rim for a finger-roll attempt before getting fouled by DeLaurier.

Self made good use of the stoppage.

"Silvio!" he screamed. "You can't let him go right!"

De Sousa, remember, has been with KU only since late December. There have been instances (understandably) when he's struggled to remember plays, and this time, Self was reminding him of something important from the KU coaches' scouting report.

Duval was more dangerous driving to his right -- and De Sousa hadn't done enough to cut him off on the previous possession.

Newman made both free throws to tie it at 78, and it wasn't surprising to see what Duke did next.

Same action: Duval had the ball up top, and DeLaurier came to set a ball screen.

As he curled around Graham — coming face to face with De Sousa — Duval played to his tendency. He crossed over, trying to split KU's defenders while going to his right.

There was one problem: De Sousa — Self's words likely ringing in his head — had him shaded that way. Duval wasn't expecting this, and in desperation, he tried to dribble the ball underneath De Sousa's left leg.

Duval drive 2

It didn't work. The ball trickled away slowly, and Newman took two steps forward to pick up the steal.

That would be important. The next possession, Lagerald Vick whipped a quick pass to Newman, who hit a three from the corner. KU took the lead and would never trail again.

De Sousa's defensive play was significant. Ken Pomeroy's calculations showed the steal pushed KU's win probability from 39 to 53 percent, with Newman's shot after that making the Jayhawks a 75 percent favorite.

Who knows how things would have turned out if Self had remained silent, or if his attention had been focused elsewhere. Maybe the Jayhawks still would've won. Maybe they wouldn't have.

This much we know: On Sunday at CenturyLink Center, an astute coach with a detailed scouting report took advantage of a fortuitous break.

He spoke seven words. And the Jayhawks' fortunes changed from there.

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