By Ethan Koch
Disgusted. Disappointed. Irritated.
These words could describe the players, coaches, and fans of the Kansas Jayhawks after the final buzzer sounded in a 74-65 defeat to unranked Washington.
Bill Self did not disapprove of the fans bolting for the exits before the game ended. In fact, the head coach empathized with the fans, perhaps asking them to reserve a spot for him after the game.
“If I’d had paid to see that, I probably would have wanted something to drink over at Power and Light probably long before two minutes left.”
— gifhawk (@GIFhawk) December 7, 2017
The Huskies arrived to Sprint Center as a 22-point underdog, but first year head coach Mike Hopkins and his squad left with a stunning upset at the expense of the number two team in the country.
Hopkins, a former assistant under Syracuse legend Jim Boeheim, implements a 2-3 zone for his team defensively. Usually, a 2-3 forces teams to shoot outside the perimeter, not allowing teams to camp in the paint. However, Hopkins decided to spread the zone, forcing the sharp shooters of Kansas to dump the ball into the middle and make shots in the paint.
“It’s unusual [to stretch the zone so wide],” the Huskies coach said. “We’ve been very fortunate this year to play a lot of teams that shoot 30 and 35 3-pointers, and it’s really the kryptonite of the zone. We’ve had to be able to adapt and adjust and figure that out.”
Although Junior guard Lagerald Vick feasted inside, Hopkins took that as a win.
“We’re not going to lose by the three point shot. They make 11 a game, they are all very dangerous shooters and we just tried made it a focus to take that away from the game. If he [Lagerald] scores 50 points by scoring twos, then that’s what we’re going to go with.”
Kansas has now dropped three of four in Sprint Center. KU lost to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinals and to Oregon in the Elite 8 last season. “I can’t blame this one on Sprint Center. I think the blame goes on the shoulders of me and everyone else out there playing.”
Vick scored 28 points on the Huskies, shooting 12-of-23 during the game. Vick started the second half on fire, scoring the Jayhawks first 12 points, but Self described his points as “fake numbers.”
“The way that they defended him [Lagerald], anybody in that situation would have put up numbers because they forced him to shoot.”
KU came into the game averaging 91.85 points per game and all five starters averaging double-figures. The Jayhawks hit a wall offensively, scoring 65 points on 45 percent shooting and 5-of-20 from three. Only one other starter, Udoka Azubuike, reach double-digit scoring with 10 points.
UW exposed a fatal flaw with the Jayhawks and their lack of depth, particularly in the front court. Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot are the only true big men for Self’s squad, and each of them had two fouls in the first half. To counter, Clay Young trotted to the court for his second game as the emergency center. The Huskies are one of the best teams at getting to the charity stripe, ranking fifth in the country in free throw rate.
The early foul trouble from the Kansas bigs, combined with the sluggish three point shooting, caused the Jayhawk offense to stall. In the second half, Azubuike returned to the floor, but offered little resistance inside according to Self.
“He [Azubuike] took himself out of the game. He checked himself out with the second foul. And in the second half he did some decent things but the bottom line is he didn’t protect the rim at all and they got to the rim off ball screens and stuff like that….he can certainly learn that two fouls at halftime is not foul trouble.”
Svi Mykhailiuk stumbled with 8 points on 25 percent shooting. Devonte’ Graham, fresh off back-to-back 35 point outings, managed a meager 3 points on 1-of-8 shooting.
“I’m not going to leave out of here thinking anybody played well, which nobody did,” Self said.
Kansas will attempt to bounce back with their second PAC-12 opponent in a row when No. 16 Arizona State comes to Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday.