The following is a breakdown of each Kansas scholarship player from the team’s 92-61 victory Thursday night over Players Group.
Udoka Azubuike: It’s probably best to start with a big man, as KU coach Bill Self was riding those guys hard Thursday. For the second straight game, Azubuike overwhelmed an opponent with size and scored almost all his points on dunks. The coaches were challenging him in other ways, though. In the first quarter, Self yelled at Azubuike to hustle on both ends, then later demanded that he go post up in the lane. In the second quarter, Self became frustrated when Azubuike didn’t try to block a shot, and he later told him “Pass the ball” after he received it inside with poor position. Azubuike still led KU in scoring, though, with 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting with five rebounds in 18 minutes. He also had this silly highlight, which shocked Self initially before it eventually made him laugh.
Devonté Graham: A second solid game for KU’s senior leader. He didn’t take many shots (3-for-6 in 18 minutes), but he continues to be the team’s best creator and passer, posting five assists in 21 minutes. Graham also added 11 points, making 3 of 4 three-pointers with five rebounds.
Malik Newman: Check out the highlight video at the top of this post to see what I’m talking about, but I’m amazed by Newman’s ability to make tough shots look easy. He is a good shooter both in mid-range and off the dribble — a rare skillset for a college basketball player — and scored 13 points despite missing all three of his three-point attempts.
Marcus Garrett: Self called him the best player in Thursday’s game, as Garrett not only had 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, but he also grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds. He was just as impressive defensively, as he’s often is in good position with quick hands that have helped him create steals. Garrett admitted after the game that he was nervous in Wednesday’s opener, and he certainly seemed to play better in Game 2. With KU likely being forced more into a four-guard lineup this year following Jack Whitman’s departure — and Garrett showing an ability to hold his own inside — it might be time to adjust the freshman’s playing-time expectations up, as he seems to be one of the team’s best fits as a small-ball 4.
Lagerald Vick: Gave KU a lift in the first quarter, as he hit a pair of corner threes and also had a strong drive inside for a layup. Vick was mostly quiet after that, ending with those eight points and two rebounds in 23 minutes. Self also was upset with him on one occasion for his late shot-clock defense that led to a Players Group dunk.
Billy Preston: Self didn’t challenge anyone more than he did Preston, as the freshman still is learning how hard he has to play as part of the program. A perfect example from the second half: After a couple trips up and down the floor, Preston started to jog, which led to Self screaming, “Run Billy!” The freshman did, but once he got back defensively, he didn’t go up forcefully enough for a defensive rebound that was knocked away. With a burst of energy, Preston saved the ball inbounds to secure the possession for KU, showing that he is trying to try hard, even if that’s not consistent yet. Self had some other gripes. In the first half, Preston received the ball in the post and went to a baseline stepback fadeaway. “Billy, what is that?” Self said. “That’s not a move. Weak.” Another time, Preston went the wrong way on a sideline out of bounds play that led to a five-second call. The freshman finished with three points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
Svi Mykhailiuk: Like Newman, Mykhailiuk made some difficult shots in traffic and off the bounce. He had nine points on 3-for-6 shooting while making 3 of 4 three-pointers.
Charlie Moore: For the second straight day, one of Moore’s best highlights didn’t turn into an assist, as he drove to the lane and made a smart pass to the perimeter only to have his teammate miss the shot. Moore also showed off a nice floater late in the fourth quarter that can be seen on the highlight video above. He finished with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting and also made a pair of threes in 19 minutes.
Mitch Lightfoot: Lightfoot heard from Self quite a bit Thursday, as the coach was upset with his rebounding and also thought he was a step slow setting screens offensively. The sophomore’s outside shot hasn’t looked good this trip, but he did rebound a three-point miss Thursday on his way to a putback layup. One of Lightfoot’s best offensive plays came when he received the ball with good position, faking right shoulder before pivoting to put it in over his left. He still struggled catching passes while wearing his broken nose mask, though it is worth noting that he frustrated Players Group forward Fadilou Seck with his physical play in the second half. Lightfoot had six points on 3-for-6 shooting with six rebounds in 19 minutes.
K.J. Lawson: Made both of his shots in 11 minutes and grabbed seven rebounds, though Self got after him for his defense a few times as well.
Sam Cunliffe: Had no points and no rebounds in eight minutes. The coaching staff seems to emphasize rebounding with him often, as he’ll likely need to improve in that area to earn time as part of a four-guard KU lineup.