Ineffective post defense in win over New Mexico State bothers Self: ‘It’s comical’

KU’s Mitch Lightfoot threw down a dunk against New Mexico State during the second half on Saturday at the Sprint Center. | Rich Sugg | rsugg@kcstar.com

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Kansas’ post defense did not past the test against New Mexico State on Saturday night in the Jayhawks’ first game without the injured Udoka Azubuike.

The Aggies scored 36 points in the paint, drawing the ire of KU coach Bill Self during and after KU’s 63-60 come-from-behind victory at the Sprint Center.

“I think it is because Doke’s out. But I also think, ‘How in the world can we not defend … (how can) Dedric (Lawson) and Mitch (Lightfoot) not defend better in tight? How in the world? Just let them get wherever they want to and be slow reacting. It’s comical,” Self said in his postgame interview with Greg Gurley on the Jayhawk radio network.

Self noted that fundamentally-sound former KU forward Landen Lucas attended the game and sat behind the Jayhawk bench.

“Landen Lucas would never let those guys catch it in the scoring area. They just back us down and get to wherever they want,” Self lamented of the Aggies’ inside players.

Ivan Aurrecoechea, a 6-8 forward from Spain, scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, many off moves in the paint. Johnny McCants, a 6-7 junior from Las Cruces, N.M., came off the bench to score 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. The two combined for nine rebounds.

“We’ve certainly got to do a lot better job than that,” Self said. “Hopefully Doke will recover fast (from sprained ankle expected to keep him out until the start of the Big 12 season). David (McCormack) didn’t get a chance to play much. Maybe David could have done a better job defensively,” Self added of the freshman forward who did not score or grab a rebound in four minutes.

The bulk of the inside minutes in the first game without Azubuike went to Lawson and Lightfoot, who combined for 23 second-half points and 11 rebounds.

Lawson took over down the stretch, scoring KU’s final 14 points. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards, awakening after being taken out of the game at the 15:29 mark, KU down, 40-33.

Lawson sat at the end of the bench during the end of the time out. Assistant coach Norm Roberts went over to talk to him and Self spoke to the forward as Lawson returned to a spot near the coaches until his return to the game three minutes later, KU down by six.

“I was frustrated with myself. I was frustrated with my defense,” Lawson said of his scoring just six points with 12 minutes to go. “I had to regroup and come back. I was trying to regroup, get my mind together, get my thoughts together so I could be productive for the team.”

Self said simply, “I have no idea. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” when asked by Gurley what happened during the 15:29 time out.

One thing is for sure. Self was not pleased with KU’s play in the victory that precedes the start of finals week on Monday. Next game is against Villanova on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse (11 a.m. tipoff).

“A team gets 28 on you (the first half in leading 28-26) you don’t think it’s your defense. Obviously it’s your offense. Our offense was brutal,” Self said.

“We hung around, made some plays. I thought our defense was pretty good late. Mitch did some good things when he was in the game (seven points, six boards in 18 minutes). You could just list the things we don’t do from a competitive and thinking standpoint. It’s just unbelievable. They got off a three to end the game. They got off a three because one guy gave him space to get off a three.”

JoJo Zamora, who was guarded by Devon Dotson, misfired on a three with 4 seconds left, one that could have forced OT.

“We were fortunate tonight. How in the world we’ve won these games … it’s one thing to not play well. It’s another thing to not play well and not be intellectually into the game and that was certainly the case tonight,” Self added.

The players were in better moods than the coach following yet another comeback victory. KU has trailed by seven or more points in six of its eight wins.

Lawson called Lightfoot the “player of the game.”

Lightfoot, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Gilbert, Ariz, scored five points, grabbed five rebounds and took two charges on defense in the final half.

“You’ve got to give credit to Mitch,” Lawson said. “He’s a guy who has been around, is not playing much. When his number is called he goes out there and produces for the most part.

“He’s a great teammate,” Lawson said. “Everyone needs a Mitch Lightfoot on their team. He comes to practice every day. He’s the main one talking. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s the first one in the locker room and last one to leave. I don’t know what he’ll be doing, but he’ll be in there,” Lawson added with a laugh. “Other than that, Mitch is a great overall kid. He’s a great person to be around.”

Lightfoot for the season has averaged 8.0 minutes per game in eight games. He has 15 points and 16 rebounds total.

“I just try to do what the team needs, try to show up and do my job every day,” Lightfoot said. “Whatever it takes for us to win and get better, I’ll do it.

Lightfoot said he felt comfortable playing next to Lawson.

“With Dedric and me in at the same time, we can make high/low passes, pull the other big guy away from him, relieve some pressure,” Lightfoot said. “I thought he did a great job late in the game to help us win it.”

Lightfoot thought he personally played “OK.”

“I made some stupid mistakes, trapping the ball with two seconds left on the shot clock. That was pretty dumb. I don’t know how many moving screens I’ve set here at the University of Kansas. I need to nip that in the bud pretty soon because it’s getting annoying. I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

And of Lawson’s late effort, which included a three-pointer to give KU the lead for good late, Lightfoot said: “He is really good. He knows how to get his own shots and get his team involved. He understands the game. I respect the heck out of him.”

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