Kansas senior guard Lagerald Vick remembers agonizing over season-ending losses to Villanova last year in the Final Four and his freshman season in the South Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
“You look back at those moments … I try not to hold them over my head,” Vick said Saturday after a much happier result — a 74-71 victory over the defending national champion Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I left it all out there playing for the team, coaches and fans, knowing how much that win would mean for the program — really going out there and playing.”
Vick and fellow Memphis native Dedric Lawson scored 29 and 28 points respectively as the Jayhawks snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats, a team that also stopped KU in the semifinals of the Battle4Atlantis tourney in 2013 in Bahamas.
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“I know this means a lot to a lot of people,” junior forward Lawson said after hitting 10 of 15 shots and 7 of 9 free throws. He also had 12 rebounds. Vick was 9 of 15 from the field, 8 of 10 from the line and 3 of 8 from three-point range. He also had seven rebounds.
Lawson was a redshirt transfer last season — watching, but not playing, in KU’s 95-79 Final Four blowout loss to Villanova in San Antonio.
“A lot of people came to the game. They wanted to see us beat Villanova,” Lawson said of the 16,300 fans in attendance, a throng that included Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Gehrig Dieter, as well as baseball Hall of Famer and Royals legend George Brett. Also on hand were several former KU players, including Nick Collison, Ryan Robertson, Wayne Simien and Sherron Collins.
“Coach (Bill Self) said they beat us the last three times. I wanted to win for the coaches and the guys and also the fans out there who got up at 11 to come to a college basketball game,” Lawson added with a smile, not forgetting those who set their alarm clocks early Saturday for an 11 a.m. tipoff.
Self, who improved to 3-4 all-time in games coached against Villanova’s Jay Wright, was happy, but not giddy, about the victory.
His No. 1-ranked Jayhawks improved to 9-0, while No. 17 Villanova fell to 8-4.
“We are 1-2 against Villanova,” Self said, “because we beat them in the Sweet 16 (in 2008). They beat us in the Elite Eight and they beat us in the Final Four. So we are 1-2.
“The game today was nice,” Self added after his squad survived a 29-point performance from Phil Booth, who hit 11 of 21 shots (4 of 11 from three-point range). Nova senior forward Eric Paschall, who was hounded by Marcus Garrett, scored 17 points but missed 6 of 10 shots.
“The game in Atlantis that they won was nice. It wasn’t a real game just like those others (in postseason) are real games. To think this was a revenge game … that would be like us beating Georgia Tech after they beat us. It’s not a revenge game,” Self said.
Self’s second KU team — the 2004-05 Jayhawks — defeated Georgia Tech in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse after falling to the Yellow Jackets the previous March in the Elite Eight in St. Louis.
“To fans and players, of course,” Self said of the revenge factor. “But to a coaching staff? No. This was just a good game that allows you to maybe have a quality win when it comes to seeding and you can play through experiences to make your team better. Jay will be the first to tell you we are both going to play in bigger games.”
From Nova coach Wright’s perspective, Self was right about the fans. Villanova’s 18th-year coach said Saturday’s atmosphere made Allen “the hardest place we’ve ever played to try and make calls (on the bench to his players).
“I’m proud of the guys, the way we battled down the stretch,” Wright said. “We had good execution, even when it’s so loud. They’ve got a good team. Like us they have a lot of new guys. He (Self) has them together better than I do now. They are good. Azubuike not playing makes a difference too,” he added of KU center Udoka Azubuike missing his second straight game with an ankle injury. Self said he has been making progress in rehab but likely would not play in games Tuesday against South Dakota and Saturday at Arizona State
“I wouldn’t want to play them with both those guys on the floor,” Wright said of Azubuike and Lawson.
Wright, whose team hit 8 of 28 threes after making 18 against KU in 40 tries in the Final Four last year, was pleased his team didn’t quit down seven points with 1:10 to play. KU connected on 11 of its final 12 free throws in the final 70 seconds to hang on.
“We needed one more missed foul shot,” Wright said, praising Lawson for making two free throws with 8.5 seconds left, upping KU’s lead to 74-70.
Nova’s Collin Gillespie (15 points) went to the line with 1.9 seconds left. He hit the first free throw to cut the deficit to 74-71, then purposely missed the second free throw. Nova’s Saddiq Bey chased the rebound but fell out of bounds with under one second left.
KU’s Garrett inbounded to Devon Dotson and KU was assured the three-point win.
“Coach was just happy we came out with the win. it was a dogfight and he just liked how we stayed together the whole game,” Garrett said.
“I thought Marcus did a fabulous job on Paschall (24 versus KU in Final Four game) after he got going,” Self said of KU’s sophomore guard, who had four steals. “I thought we played terrific defensively except for the last minute and a half when we were not very good.”
Another key was freshman guard Dotson, who scored 11 points. He hit four free throws without a miss in the final minute.
“We went from being a crappy free-throw shooting team during the game to a good one down the stretch,” Self said, pointing out that KU hit 12 of its first 18 free throws before ending 11 of 12. The Jayhawks were 23 of 30 from the line while Villanova was 15 of 19.
KU outrebounded Villanova 35-26 and survived on a night when freshman Quentin Grimes scored one point in 14 minutes.
“Think about it,” Self said, “we don’t have Doke, don’t have Silvio (De Sousa) and Quentin got a goose-egg basically today. You would think that would be a game we lose by 20 if Villanova played well and they did. They were terrific. Our guys … those two (Vick, Lawson) were good enough to carry us offensively.”
It was all good enough for a narrow three-point win over modern KU nemesis Nova.
“I know the fans have been waiting on this game all year. That’s all we were hearing all around campus, like, ‘We just can’t wait till you play Villanova,’’’ Garrett said. “The craziest thing about it is, the students were supposed to go home for break, and they stayed just for the game.
“We needed it. They gave us energy, with it being an early game. We basically didn’t have to create our own energy, because they were our energy for us,” Garrett added of the fans.
Faces in the crowd
Self on celebrities in the stands: “It was a great atmosphere. I’d not met Patrick (Mahomes) before. I was hoping to get a chance to. Travis (Kelce) was here too? That’s pretty special having those two guys here. I know Travis but not Patrick. It’s great to have those guys come over here. George (Brett) is here all the time. He doesn’t count as much as the other two,” Self added, laughing.
This, that ...
KU will meet South Dakota at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse, then travel to Arizona State on Saturday for an 8 p.m. Central time tipoff. … KU is 3-0 versus Top 25 teams this season. … KU has won 39 straight home games when ranked No. 1 in the country. KU has won nine in a row at Allen. … Villanova (8 of 28 from three to KU’s 5 of 15) missed nine of its last 10 threes. … Vick and Lawson’s combined 57 points were most by a KU duo since Elijah Johnson (39) and Travis Releford (19) combined for 58 points in an overtime win over Iowa State on Feb. 15, 2013.