Bill Self says Jayhawks proved in New York they ‘will compete and fight’

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Whether to motivate his Kansas basketball players or simply tell it as he sees it, Bill Self has selected the word “soft” to describe the play of the Jayhawks at various intervals the past 16 seasons.

He’s not gone there through five games of the 2018-19 campaign.

“One thing I know about our team moreso now than ever, I think they’ll compete and fight,” Self said of the Jayhawks (5-0). They erased a 12-point deficit against Marquette and nine-point deficit against Tennessee in a pair of wins Wednesday and Friday at the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The toughness quotient — oft-cited by Self — can sometimes be measured in simple rebounding stats.

KU outrebounded Marquette 38-31 in a 77-68 semifinal victory Wednesday, then outboarded a physical Tennessee team 43-40 in an 87-81 overtime win in the tourney finale.

“For us to outrebound them, even though it is a little misleading — we had five team rebounds bounce our way out of bounds — for us to outrebound that team and not having Doke out there the vast majority of the time means we at least competed with them,” Self said after the Tennessee game. “That a tough (UT) team and they’ll continue to get better.”

Seven-footer Udoka Azubuike played just 17 minutes against Tennessee because of foul problems. He was not on the court in overtime when No. 2-ranked KU outboarded the No. 5 Vols, 9-4, and outscored the Vols, 18-12. Junior forward Dedric Lawson had five of his 13 rebounds in overtime; sophomore guard K.J. Lawson three of his six total boards in the extra session. Of course Tennessee also played the OT without forward Grant Williams, like Dedric Lawson, a national player of the year candidate.

“That’s how I like to play. I like to play physical,” said K.J. Lawson, KU’s 6-8 sophomore guard, who scored eight points in 19 minutes in Friday’s final. “They called a lot of touch fouls on both ends. They (Vols) were an aggressive team. It’s what I look forward to.”

“He played terrific, with high energy,” Dedric Lawson, who had 24 points and 13 boards in 41 minutes vs. UT, said of his brother. “He’ll dive on the floor, compete, give you everything he has.”

Self not only saw solid rebounding, but improvement in his guards taking the ball to the basket during the two games in New York.

“Lagerald actually turned the corner (and drove) a couple times,” Self said of senior Lagerald Vick, who had 15 points versus Tennessee and 16 points versus Marquette.

“Devon (Dotson, 17 points vs. Tennessee; 10 vs Marquette) is pretty good at getting in there. He doesn’t always make great decisions when he gets in there,” Self added. “Believe it or not, Charlie (Moore, nine points vs. Tennessee) forced help a couple times. We did not get anything out of Quentin (Grimes, eight points, nine rebounds combined in two games) doing that. We’ve got to improve there. Our guards are getting better at it.”

Freshman point guard Dotson has exhibited great speed in running the show through five games.

“That’s my goal, finding the right spots, picking the defense, seeing where I can get in to get my nose dirty, trying to make plays for others and myself,” Dotson said. “Coach likes getting the ball downhill and attack, attack, attack. I feel it’s coming fast.”

One negative in the games in New York had to be big man Azubuike’s foul trouble. He was able to score nine points and chip in four boards in his 17 minutes in the title game.

“When he fouled out it was next man up mentality,” Dotson said. “It’s what we preach here. No matter who goes down, who goes out, next man up is ready to play.”

In the Tennessee game, that meant minutes for K.J. Lawson.

“This isn’t a knock on Mitch (Lightfoot, three boards, eight minutes vs. Tennessee) or David (McCormack, one board, four minutes) at all, but when Doke is not in the game, we’ve got no low post scoring unless Dedric plays down there,” Self said. “One thing we can do is stretch the floor a little bit to allow Dedric to work inside some one on one.”

Weather delays for Jayhawks

Because of weather delays, Kansas’ basketball traveling party arrived Sunday in Lawrence about 8:30 p.m. — five to six hours later than planned.

First, the Jayhawks, who spent Saturday sightseeing in the Big Apple after wrapping up play in the NIT on Friday, were delayed at New York’s Kennedy Airport an hour Sunday while waiting for a charter plane to arrive, an athletic department official explained.

The charter plane, which was supposed to land in Topeka, landed instead in Wichita because of icy, snowy conditions in Topeka. When the weather cleared in Topeka and a runway was available, the plane flew from Wichita to Topeka and landed about 8 p.m., instead of the original target time of 2:30 to 3 p.m.

KU will next meet Stanford on Saturday in a 4:30 p.m., tip, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Hampton to visit KU

R.J. Hampton, a 6-5 junior point guard from Little Elm (Texas) High School, who is the No. 1-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2020 according to Rivals.com, will attend the KU-Villanova game on Dec. 15 as part of an official visit to KU, Rivals.com reported Sunday. Hampton has already visited Memphis officially and made an unofficial visit to Kentucky.

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