The Need for Speed: KU Blitzes Past Texas A&M in Big 12/SEC Challenge

Image by Ethan Koch

By Ethan Koch

In a matchup of different styles, Kansas used speed and perimeter scoring to defeat Texas A&M’s size and strength 79-68 in the Big 12/SEC showdown.

The Aggies tout a strong front court, led by Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. The duo has led Texas A&M to number three in the country in total rebounds per game.

Kansas countered with a barrage of three pointers, led by senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 4-of-8 from downtown.

The Jayhawks rank 19th in 3-point percentage this season, and continued their dominance from beyond the arc against a Texas A&M team that allows 39 percent of their total shots from three. Kansas shot 12-of-26 from three in the game, including nailing 10 in the first half.

Malik Newman said making threes becomes “contagious.”

“I think we are almost trying to compete with each other to see who’s going to miss first,” the sophomore guard said.

Even backup center Mitch Lightfoot joined in on the action, sinking a three from the corner at the buzzer to put KU up 45-27 at halftime.

KU also focused on attacking on the fast break. The Jayhawks outscored the Aggies 15-2 in fast break points, including a 13-0 margin by halftime.

On Thursday, Mykhailiuk said “speed beats size every time, every day.” Coach Bill Self kept hammering that message home to his players.

“Well that’s what we tried to convince them of, because obviously we could never get as big as them,” Self said. “I thought the first half we played pretty quick and pretty fast. Second half we didn’t at all, and obviously they out played us in the second half. Obviously when you’re not very big, you need to be quicker.

That old adage ‘we’re not very big, but sure are slow,’ that usually doesn’t win a lot of games so we had to be quicker.”

This game clashed different styles of play, and different schools of thought. Texas A&M plays with two traditional big men on the court with Davis, Williams, and Tonny Trocha-Morales sharing playing time. Kansas, due to lack of depth in the front court, plays with four wing players and one post player.

The KU coach said the game has shifted to this style.

“I think the game is certainly getting smaller. You look in the NBA, the game is smaller. ….We haven’t played very many teams that play two traditional bigs.”

Davis lead the Aggies in scoring with 18 points and finished with nine rebounds. Williams finished one rebound short of a double-double as well, posting 11 points and nine rebounds.

Those rebounding numbers didn’t phase KU. Despite losing the rebounding battle 40-33, Kansas led for 38:25. The team also scored 30 points in the paint, tying the giants from College Station.

Self admitted he wants to become more versatile with his lineup, but said it’s hard to find minutes for other bigs like Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa to play alongside Udoka Azibuike.

“It is difficult when you’re going to play four guards all the time. As long as we play one big it’s going to be hard….It [two man offense] hasn’t looked good in practice.”

Newman and Lagerald Vick rounded out the double-digit scorers for Kansas, finishing with 15 and 10 respectively. For Newman, it marks the third straight game in double-digits.

When asked what the biggest difference has been for him, Newman said “My confidence, just me going out there, being comfortable, and just knowing what I can do and doing it.”

The midseason non-conference game gave Kansas a break from Big 12 action. The Jayhawks have won all four games they’ve played in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. However, the SEC won the day, taking the series 6-4.

Kansas now turns its attention 85 miles west to Manhattan to face Kansas State on Monday. The Wildcats have won four in a row, and nearly stole a victory in Phog Allen back on January 13.

“I know it’s going to be a tough game,” Newman said. “It’s a rivalry game. I know going up there, in that atmosphere, against that team with home court advantage. I mean, I know it’s going to be tough, but we just have to prepare like we do every other night and just go out there and battle.”

“I would anticipate the same thing that we anticipate every time we got to Manhattan,” Self said. “It will be the best environment that we’ll play in this year from a competitive standpoint. We won’t go to a place that will rival the energy that they have for us anywhere else that they’d have for us. We’ve played in front of some great home courts, but there’s a little venom and hatred in this one. They’ve got a lot to play for as well, and they’re playing great. I think it will be the toughest atmosphere we’ve played in this year.”