Tipoff is 1 p.m. on ESPN.
After two sluggish defensive performances against New Mexico State and
Jackson State, the No. 25 Jayhawks (7-1) want to turn up the intensity
and gain some momentum for the following week of practices and final
Above all, KU coach Bill Self wants to see more toughness. KU only
outrebounded Jackson State 39-38, and had just two more defensive
boards against a team which shot only 19 of 54 from the field (35.2
In the previous game against New Mexico State on Dec. 3, KU gave up 79
points, which tied for the third-most points KU’s allowed at
Allen Fieldhouse during the Self era.
“We’ve been really soft defensively,”
sophomore Tyrel Reed said after the Jackson State victory on Dec. 6.
“Not going after the ball with two hands. Just being really
weak. I think these next two weeks (with only two games), our toughness
level will increase.”
UMass and Temple (Dec. 20 at Allen Fieldhouse) are the only two games
on KU’s schedule before the Jayhawks play at Arizona on Dec.
23 and then break for the holidays. This will give the team some much
needed practice time.
Self’s Jayhawks have been busy on the hardwood this week in
preparation for UMass. Despite its 2-6 record, Self is very concerned
about the Minutemen. UMass is led by first-year head coach Derek
Kellogg, who previously served eight seasons under John Calipari at
“They play a lot like Memphis,” Self said.
“There’s definitely some similarities how they play
based on dribble drive motion. They set more ball screens. They do a
few things differently than Memphis, but there are some
The Minutemen have a talented starting lineup with plenty of offensive
“They got four guys that can really score,” Self
said. “They got a guy (Ricky Harris) who’s
averaging 21 who can make shots. They have probably as active a big man
(Tony Gafney) as we’ve played against that is good on the
glass and can step out away. They’re fast. Their record is
pretty remarkable to me, because they’re a lot better than
their record. There’s no doubt about that. They’ve
played a tough schedule.”
After opening the season with a 90-71 victory over Arkansas-Monticello,
UMass dropped six straight (four of its six losses were by seven points
or less) before beating Holy Cross, 73-59, on Wednesday. The Minutemen
have fallen to Southern Illinois, Memphis, Jacksonville State (75-74),
Green Bay, Toledo (57-56), and Boston College (85-81 in OT).
UMass is led in scoring by junior guard Harris at 21.3 points
per game. He’s also made a team-high 29 three-pointers.
Harris is the go-to guy, but the Minutemen’s two
big keys may be senior point guard Chris Lowe and senior forward
Gafney. Lowe averages 12.6 points and leads the team with 49 assists.
Gafney, meanwhile, is a dominating force inside, averaging 13.3 points
and a whopping 12.9 boards, while blocking 43 shots.
Sophomore guard Anthony Gurley is another scorer at 12.4 points per
game (15 three-pointers), while freshman forward-center Tyrell Lynch
(3.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is the fifth starter. Freshman guard David Gibbs
(2.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Matt Glass (2.1 ppg) contribute off the
bench for Kellogg’s squad.
UMass is averaging 71.5 points and allowing 73.9, while slightly
outrebounding opponents 36.9 to 36.5. Led by Gafney, the Minutemen have
21 more blocked shots than their foes.
KU’s Cole Aldrich and the freshmen Morris twins (Marcus and
Markieff) will have their hands full with Gafney. Markieff and Marcus
hope to continue their solid play against Jackson State. With senior
walk-on Matt Kleinmann getting the starting nod versus the Tigers, Self
sent a message to the Morris’s and freshman forward Quintrell Thomas to elevate their games.
Marcus Morris responded with 13 points and three rebounds in 17
minutes, while Markieff had eight points, five boards, and two steals
in 19 minutes.
“I think the last four or five days have been some of their
best days,” Self said at his Wednesday press conference.
“I thought they were good in the game (Jackson State), and
the last two practices have been two of the best they’ve had
all year. I think they are starting to get it.”
“I don’t think Marcus is quite there yet, but
he’s kind of a Julian (Wright) type guy,” Self
added. “He doesn’t have the same quickness or
explosiveness as Julian, but he’s a skilled guy like Julian.
He shoots a lot better than Julian. He’s really kind of more
of a perimeter player, a face-up guy. Markieff is really a three-point
shooter or back-to-the-basket guy.
“I see a lot of similarities in them. They both have good
touch and they both can really pass the basketball. They think the game
right offensively. There are a lot of similarities, but they are
different. And they need to be a little bit different, so that way they
can complement each other.”
Self said he’s been pleased with KU’s field goal
percentage (.482), three-point percentage (.370) and free throw
shooting (Big 12-leading 73.8 percent), but stressed the Jayhawks must
get better on defense, rebounding, and turnovers.
The KU coach said KU’s field goal percentage defense (36.0
percent) and rebound margin (+9.9) are misleading. And Self added that
Kansas is “wasting too many possessions” with 14.6
turnovers per game.
“This team needs to average 12 turnovers per game,”
Self said. “If we do that, we’’ll score
two to four more points a game and look better also.”
KU will look to cut down its turnovers and increase its toughness
After a rough start, the Minutemen are looking to go on a winning
streak following their win over Holy Cross. UMass showed toughness by
rallying from a second-half deficit.
“I think the team as whole is starting to realize exactly
what is expected of them and how hard you have to play for 40
minutes,” Kellogg said after the victory. “It is
not easy to compete for 40 minutes, but that is how you want to do
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