How Devonté Graham found a way to help KU win … on a 3-for-16 shooting night
By Jesse Newell firstname.lastname@example.org
Devonté Graham saw it. And then, he said something.
And who knows how Kansas’ 83-77 road victory over Iowa State would have turned out if both those didn’t happen in the first half on Tuesday.
Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us by now. Graham is more than a leader for this KU team; he’s also an intelligent player whom coach Bill Self has trusted as much as anyone during his 15 seasons in Lawrence.
One just has to go back to last season for proof. In the Sweet 16 against Purdue, Graham suggested to coaches at halftime that the team go to more high pick-and-rolls in an attempt to attack the Boilermakers’ big men off the dribble.
The result? Four consecutive scores with that same action, and KU dominating the second half in a 98-66 victory.
Graham’s value extended beyond the box score against Tuesday.
Lagerald Vick was going to be vital for KU offensively on this night. Iowa State chose to put slow-footed big man Cameron Lard on him defensively, which meant Vick had the game’s biggest mismatch on that end.
Vick didn’t get off to a good start early. He missed his first two threes, including one with 13:38 left.
Graham was able to get a clear look from the opposite wing. And he became a coach on the floor during the next stoppage in play.
“I told him he wasn’t jumping on his jump shot,” Graham said. “He was just shooting his set shot.”
One thing is clear, though: Vick listened to Graham. You only have to look at his next three-point attempt to see that.
Vick takes his time, then extends higher on his jump when releasing his shot.
The moment was the start of a breakthrough for KU.
Self expected Vick to be open based on the defensive matchup, so much so that Graham said teammates were telling him to put up additional shots in practice on Monday.
Vick delivered at the start of the second half. With Self calling it “the biggest stretch of the game,” Vick made 3 of 4 three-pointers — using his rediscovered form — to extend the Jayhawks’ lead to 10.
This had other positive effects as well. With more confidence, Vick started attacking in situations he hasn’t in previous games, which included an impressive drive and finish over Lard inside.
“I think he played aggressive,” teammate Malik Newman said. “That’s what we want him to do.”
Graham had one of the worst offensive nights of his career Tuesday. He had 13 points but made just 2 of 9 two-pointers and also missed three free throws in the final 30 seconds.
That wasn’t most important. Vick scored 16 points — his most since December — while making 6 of 10 shots and 4 of his final 5 three-pointers.
That all probably doesn’t happen without a mechanical adjustment and on-court pep talk. In a game when he didn’t play well individually, Graham still found a way to make those around him better.
And, on this night, that changed the game for KU.