University of Kansas

Why Marcus Garrett’s off game was a big deal in loss to Kentucky

KU coach Bill Self’s opening thoughts after loss to Kentucky

Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self speaks to reporters following his team's 71-63 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. KU fell to 16-4.
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Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self speaks to reporters following his team's 71-63 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. KU fell to 16-4.

Marcus Garrett was ready to throw the ball to Dedric Lawson. There was no chance to get it there, though.

It was early in the second half when Garrett stood at the top of the key, searching for a way to dump it inside to his team’s best scorer.

Impossible.

Kentucky big man Nick Richards was behind Lawson, but that wasn’t the issue. Instead, the trouble came from P.J. Washington, who remained in the lane to provide a de facto double-team inside.

Garrett held the ball, basically by himself, and was helpless. A few seconds later, he attempted a drive to the rim, missing off the glass when two Kentucky players challenged his shot.

It was the scene over and over again for KU in Saturday’s 71-63 loss to Kentucky, with the final tape likely to be of interest to future defenses taking on the Jayhawks.

One potential way to slow down Lawson? Basically don’t guard Garrett on the perimeter.

“We wanted him to take three-point shots,” Washington said of Garrett. “We didn’t want him to get to his right hand and get easy layups. We felt like he’s not a great three-point shooter, so we just tried to force him into taking those.”

For the most part, Garrett didn’t. The 23-percent outside shooter missed two first-half threes and backed off from there, leaving both he and his team searching for offensive solutions that they never found Saturday.

This needs to be said: Garrett had been great lately. He’d scored at least 15 points in each of his last three games, using his quickness and finishing ability at the rim to get half-court layups while also drawing fouls.

And this is worth noting too: Kentucky had a defensive advantage here. Maybe backing off Garrett doesn’t work without talented shot-blockers like the Wildcats have, meaning other Big 12 schools aren’t as likely to copy this formula.

It still shows just how much KU is dependent on Garrett to provide more than defense when he’s out there.

Garrett ended with four points on 1-for-9 shooting, though that should be graded on a curve. On one three-point attempt and another jumper, Washington not only failed to get out to Garrett, he didn’t even lift his arms up.

In short, Kentucky was triple-dog-daring Garrett to shoot it.

“I still try to drive the ball,” Garrett said of his strategy when teams are backing off. “My little floaters and layups just weren’t falling.”

That hurt, because it had a ripple effect. Suddenly, Devon Dotson couldn’t get downhill on drives, because Garrett’s man always seemed to be lurking. Set plays that got post touches for Lawson in the past instead had no chance with two big men never leaving the paint.

That’s a problem for KU. Most nights, for the Jayhawks to properly keep the floor spaced, they need either Garrett of Lagerald Vick to have good games along with Lawson for an inside-out punch.

It never materialized here. KU mustered just 0.93 points per possession — its third-worst mark of the year — and never gave itself a chance despite a solid defensive performance.

Coach Bill Self, after talking in the past week about Garrett being a player KU couldn’t afford to take out of games, saw the potential dangers of being forced into that Saturday.

“He didn’t have his best game, but still though, we’ve got to live with that,” Self said of Garrett. “If we’re going to play Marcus, we’ve got to live with him trying to score over length from three or four feet. It just didn’t happen tonight.”

If this season had gone as planned, maybe Self wouldn’t have felt as handcuffed.

Charlie Moore, expected to be one of the team’s best three-point shooters coming into the season, didn’t play Saturday. K.J. Lawson, meanwhile, was only in for three minutes.

Some of this is a coach’s preference. Self is defensive-minded at heart, meaning if his team’s going down swinging against Kentucky, he’s likely going with a lineup that’s built to guard and grind its way to a victory.

There still might be adjustments to be made down the line. Kentucky definitely would’ve had to guard Moore on the perimeter, while K.J. would’ve provided more of a threat of making open three-point shots.

Could they have helped KU’s offense Saturday? Probably. Would they have been more of a liability defensively if they’d been put in? That we’ll never know.

The easy way out of this isn’t so simple, which would be for Garrett to make more shots. Though he’s worked extensively in the offseason, his form remains jerky which results in a low trajectory after his release.

Garrett said a few things factor in when he gets the ball and is wide open. He thinks about how many times the ball has been reversed, and if others have touched it. He also likes to shoot or drive immediately when receiving a pass.

Fair or not, KU needs a better Garrett in these types of games. If Self is going to double down on his defensive lineup at the cost of putting shooters on the floor, Garrett has to be more productive.

If he’s not, the risk isn’t just ugly numbers for himself; it’s the risk of hurting his teammates in the process.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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