“Let’s Get Small” was the name of the Steve Martin record that won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 1978.
It was also Bill Self’s game plan for much of Wednesday night’s herky-jerky 73-62 win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. It was KU’s first game without All-American forward Wayne Simien, who is out four to six weeks while recuperating and rehabbing from thumb surgery.
"I don't think it went great, but I don't think it was terrible, either, no more than we’d practiced (the small lineup). Alex (Galindo) did a good job and he’s going to be much more effective playing that way. When Darnell (Jackson) got two quick ones early and Christian (Moody) got two quick ones early, I thought we’d just save those guys for the second half. So naturally, if we were going to do that, we’re going to play small."
“I thought it was okay,” Self said, shrugging.
In typical workmanlike fashion, senior Aaron Miles summarized the evening very succinctly: “We did a lot of good things out there, but we did a lot of bad things out there. We’ve got a lot to work on.”
“The three freshmen bailed us out. There’s no other way to say it. I don’t think we played smart. They made some plays that they wish they could have back, but if it weren’t for Russell (Robinson) and C.J. (Giles) in the first half and Alex (Galindo) in the second half, who knows how the game would have been?” Self said.
Self was most effusive in his praise of 6-7 guard Alex Galindo, who logged 14 points and seven boards in 17 minutes at – of a all places – power forward in KU’s small line-up.
Self said, “Alex is a terrific shooter and he hasn’t really shot it good yet. He got on a little roll tonight, but he’s got a knack for getting the ball in the basket. He’s a good rebounder. He’s got to get better, but he’s a much better four player than he would be at the three. He played well.”
“[Galindo] hasn’t had a chance to play much. We recruited him to be a three-man, and he’s probably more of a four,” the Kansas coach said. “It’s going to take some time. Against teams that play small like Milwaukee does, there will be opportunities for him to play quite a few minutes."
"I was relaxed today, but I was a little bit anxious because that’s the first game I’ve played that many minutes,” Galindo said. “I think I did a pretty good job. Hopefully I did some things to help the team win."
In the midst of experimenting with the new four-guard lineup, however, the Jayhawks struggled mightily offensively, shooting just 44.8 percent from the field and making free throws at a clip –
54.2 percent – that made several women and children at courtside weep openly.
Luckily, however, UW-Milwaukee was even worse. The Panthers had their opportunities, whittling double-digit leads down to a single number several times in the second half only to go ice cold again. UW-M shot just 38.7 percent from the floor and – this is not a typo – 27.3 percent (3 of 11) from the charity stripe.
But Self said the Jayhawks’ offensive woes weren’t a surprise at all.
“I knew we were going to struggle,” the coach said, matter-of-factly. “If we make our free throws and eliminate some careless turnovers, we probably played a pretty decent game. But we made too many mental mistakes and too many turnovers.”
But from lemons, he managed to make lemonade, saying, “Even though our offense wasn’t very good – and it wasn’t, at times – we still spread the floor and got the ball to the paint most of the time. Guys have to make plays, but there were some good things that happened, considering we really hadn’t worked on four-and-one very much.”
However, one thing that was a surprise was the number of “small” minutes the Jayhawks played.
“I could have put Christian back in the first half, but I thought, ‘Heck, it’s not going terrible. Let’s save him because we may need him late.’ I didn’t anticipate playing small that much at all.”
Self said that although some upcoming opponents make playing a small lineup less than optimal, the small lineup is likely the wave of the short-term future for Kansas.
“I would say until Wayne gets back, I wouldn’t be surprised if we play 15 to 20 minutes a game small,” Self projected.
Both Miles and his backcourt mate, Keith Langford, said that considering the novelty of the small lineup, they enjoyed taking this first shot at it and are looking forward to refining it in the next few weeks.
“For the first time having to do it, it went alright,” Miles said. “We just want to keep practicing and we’re going to get better.”
Langford said, "We’re going to become a lot more of a perimeter-oriented team. I’m sure between now and our next game, we’ll add a lot more wrinkles.”
But was the Darnell Jackson/C.J. Giles experiment a bust? No, according to the coach. A lot was learned, even though they combined for six points and four rebounds (all of them Giles’) along with six fouls in 21 minutes of playing time.
"Every rep that those guys get is going to be helpful because they’re out there. Every shot they take matters. If C. J. (Giles) makes his free throws, he’d have a heck of a first half.”
Self continued, “I think we learned we’re not very good, defensively. Our freshmen have got to get a lot better, defensively. Half of the fouls that Darnell (Jackson) and C. J. (Giles) committed were fouls that were totally avoidable. We’ll get better, but they did do some good things, no question."
Other game notes
- Keith Langford on the Jayhawks sans Big Dub: “We’ve played without Wayne before. We’ve learned to deal with adversity. And we know it’s just a temporary thing. However long he’s going to sit out, we know we’re going to get him back.”
- Brother, can you spare a dime? Aaron Miles became the Big 12 career assist leader Wednesday night. His nine assists give him 800, six more than Oklahoma State guard and fashion consultant Doug Gottlieb. He now needs just five more to break the KU career mark of 804, set by Jacque Vaughn.
- Lost in the freshman shuffle: Keith Langford continued his resurgence, posting a terrific line of 21 points (7-of-15 shooting including 3-of-4 from the arc), seven rebounds, six assists and just one turnover. And apparently he’s been given a green light from the coach. “Look for me to be more offensive-oriented in the next few games,” Langford said.
- This is not a typo, part II: Jayhawk guard Aaron Miles led the team in rebounding with eight, followed by Alex Galindo and Langford with seven. Christian Moody grabbed six after only recording one in the first half.