Kansas On To Elite Eight

The Jayhawks moved one step closer to San Antonio and are half way to a national championship after knocking out 12th seeded Villanova (72-57) on Friday. Phog.net looks at how defense was once again a key for KU.

Three down and three to go.

This one wasn’t always pretty and if KU is able to move on to next weekend and win a national championship this won’t go down as the most complete game of the bunch, but it might be one of the best defensive efforts. It was a blue collar effort for Bill Self’s team that did get sloppy down the stretch. Kansas owned a narrow edge on the boards (33-30), and turned it over 18 times in the game.

“We didn't finish the game the way we hoped,” stated Self.  “I didn't think the second half we had much rhythm, in large part due to fouls, substitutions, and some other things.”

But Self knows style points aren’t important this time of the year and all that matters is that Kansas has more points than its opponent – that’s why the motto is survive and advance.

Friday Kansas advanced thanks to staunch defense that held a perimeter-oriented Villanova team to just 57 points on 35.3 percent shooting. Scottie Reynolds, the defensive focal point coming in, was held to just 11 points on 4-13 shooting. Russell Robinson earned the right to guard Reynolds for most of the night and embraced the challenge of locking down another key player. But the senior was also a factor on the offensive end and was at the heart of an important 19-6 first half run. Robinson ended the game with 15 points and five assists.

‘I thought Russell was the player of the game, he and Sasha (Kaun),” continued Self. “But I thought Russell, he made shots early, which is always a bonus when Russell does that. I thought he was very good offensively for us. But defensively he did a fabulous job on Scottie.

“I could just tell going into the game, he was probably as focused as I'd seen him in a long, long time - maybe as I've ever seen him. I was really happy for him.”

“On ball screens, they were double-teaming, trying to get the ball out of my hands. A lot of times if I were to drive it, they were bringing a big or a guard to get the ball out of my hands,” admitted Reynolds. “And sometimes I was just forcing the issue a little bit too much trying to get into the lane, trying to find a teammate.”

The Nova guards, particularly Reynolds, were lauded heading into the game but after the game it was about the damage done by KU’s guards was irreparable. 52 of KU’s points came from the guard position, and on the other end, the Jayhawks forced eight steals.

“What we feared was not being able to score. We were going to need to make threes against them. We needed Scottie and Dante (Cunningham) to score. They just did a great job defensively. They really did. We give them a lot of credit,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.

Offensively the Jayhawks devastated the Wildcats by throwing over the top of the defense for bunch of highlight reel dunks, and hitting some momentum-building treys.  

“I didn't think we were that bad defensively in the first half, I really didn't,” said Wright. Those seven threes, even the one at the end of the half, you know, (Jeremy) Case comes in, takes one shot, drills a three. Scottie was right there. They're just a good team. They're playing very well right now. They're playing with great confidence. Everyone's filling their role.”

Kansas has hung its hat on the defensive end of the floor all season and Davidson and Stephon Curry will again present a challenge for a battle-tested KU defense but the Jayhawks know – one more win moves them closer to their national championship aspirations.

NOTES:

-Where this game was going to be played acted as a sidebar story all week. With all the pre-game chatter about Ford Field’s unique dome-setting the most noticeable part of it was the empty seats during a Sweet 16 game between two teams from power conferences that appeared to lack the zest of a critical tournament game.

“The atmosphere was pretty great. There were a lot of empty seats, though. It's not the like the Field House. But it was pretty good,” according to Kansas junior Brandon Rush who led the team in scoring with 16 points.

-The respect between Wright and Self was clearly evident all week.

Wright was extremely complimentary to Kansas after the game saying, “We played a great team. We all, we really respect the Kansas team. I have great respect for Bill. I just saw him out there and told him he's got a lot of big-time players that play the game the right way. They play for Kansas. They don't play for the name on the back of their jersey. It was very evident tonight.”

- Self will now make his fifth appearance in the Elite 8, his third with Kansas, and as expected was asked about lessons learned from the four prior appearances.

“I think the biggest thing that I've learned is you really have to manage Saturday and their sleep as well as you can, to make sure we're as fresh as we can be on Sunday, which I think we'll be. I think I've worked guys too hard in the past on the off day.”

It’s clearly a lesson that a lot of head coaches have learned about the latter stages of the season and the good news for Self is that only one player amassed more than 30 minutes on Friday (Robinson played 33). KU should have a fresh mind and fresh legs for Sunday’s 5:40pm ET matchup with Davidson.

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