The Jayhawks needed everything those two could bring to the floor Saturday afternoon to defeat Pacific, 81-70, in Allen Field House.
The senior duo played a near-perfect game, combining for 40 points, nine rebounds, eight steals and 15 assists against just three turnovers. And how important was that performance?
Taking on a gimmick Pacific defense designed to shut down the Kansas’ high-low offense – specifically, limit shots for All-American and Wooden Award candidate Wayne Simien – and getting little to no help from the bench, it fell to the backcourt starters to shoulder the load today. And shoulder it, they did.
Simien did manage 12 points and 15 rebounds – a tremendous day on any other day for any other team – but he was outdone by Miles and Langford.
Miles had 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting (3-of-3 from behind the three-point arc) along with eight assists and two turnovers.
Langford scored 21 on 8-of-16 shooting, along with six boards, seven assists and just one turnover
Self was effusive in his praise for his two senior perimeter players.
“I thought this was the best Keith has been all year. If you add the stat line of Keith and Aaron together, that is the best stat line of any twosome in America today. Aaron was fabulous. He made only two bad plays the whole game. Other than those plays, that was as good as Aaron has played. He was terrific,” the coach said.
“Keith looked like Keith. I was real pleased with Keith today. And it’s not that he made shots, it’s that he was in attack mode. It’s hard to be in attack mode when the other team backs off like they did. They had three guys around Wayne every time he had the ball. So to do what Keith did today is pretty good,” Self said.
But Self isn’t looking for specific outputs from Langford. “I’m not hung up on numbers; I just want him to be aggressive. When he’s aggressive, he’s makes plays,” the coach said.
“This is just the third, fourth game of the season? I need to build off of this,” Langford said. “Obviously this is a confidence builder, and I’m glad. I just think that my performance, along with Aaron’s, was needed to beat (Pacific). It’s the best team we’ve played all year. I couldn’t just stand back and watch.
Self was also very happy with his point guard’s performance. “I think that’s as good as Aaron’s played since we’ve had him. I’m sure he’s had some other great games. He shot the ball great and was confident. He’s doing what a point guard is supposed to do.”
According to Langford, the sagging Pacific defense was what put him and Miles in a unique position to make a huge contribution.
“I thought they would play us differently just because we haven’t been shooting as well as we’d like to. For the most part, they were really geared on trying to stop Wayne and our inside game. We needed some penetration to loosen things up. And with the funky way they defended us, they left gaps, and we were able to get in and dish the ball.”
Miles agreed that he and Langford saw some opportunities they hadn’t thus far.
“Keith did a real good job of penetrating and pulling up. Moody was setting some good ball screens, and Keith was able to get into the lane and pull up a little bit. I think, for Keith especially, they way they defended benefited us.”
Overall, compared to previous games this season, Langford was glad to have played more of a role. “This feels a lot better. You want to contribute and give your team a chance to win. In this game, in this situation, somebody else had to step up,” he said.
Miles also felt like he had to step up. “I just try to do whatever it takes for this team to win. If I’m open, take and make shots. Try to get it to people in a position to score. But Keith’s penetration and (Pacific’s) defense allowed me to do some different things. They denied J.R. (Giddens) the ball, they doubled down on Dub (Wayne Simien), and they collapsed on Keith’s penetration. Keith was able to find and create shots, not only for himself but for others, too,” he explained.
So Self enjoyed watching his Langford and Miles. But the rest of the team? Not so much.
“We rebounded pitifully the first half. Our other big guy has got to step up and make a play. There were some good things that happened today, but our bench was nonexistent in the first half. We only had two perimeter players firing on all cylinders and we still scored 81 points, so that’s probably a bonus. Defensively, we were average. We weren’t bad. We’ve just got a lot of work to do on the defensive end to be where we want to be.”
“We’ll go back and watch game film, and there’s going to be some things we didn’t do so well that we need to work on. That’s part of becoming a great team. We won the game and felt like we played pretty well, but there’s always something you need to improve,” Miles agreed.
Other game notes
- Wayne Simien was bitten on the hand shortly after tip-off and needed stitches. “It was a beast down there in the lane,” Simien said, laughing after the game. Self said he doubted the bite by a Pacific player wasn’t intentional. “I think (Simien) just got his hand near someone’s mouth. He’ll get a tetanus shot later today.”
- Self, on Russell Robinson’s Tale of Two Halves: In the first half, “He was a dud. He looked dead. He looked nervous. And he’d be the first to admit it. But it takes toughness to come back out in the second half and forget play through it. In the second half, he provided a real spark and made some plays you can’t coach.”
- Pacific forward Christian Maraker played a terrific game. Guarded by virtually all of the KU big men at some point during the game, the big Swede scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting (including 2-of-4 from behind the three-point arc) and grabbed four boards. “He’d come in and be an all-Big 12 player,” commented Keith Langford.