Jayhawk Insider: Building a Defensive Identity
By Jack Dodd
LAWRENCE, Kan. – On a team waiting for a consistent identity to build on, the Kansas men’s basketball team flexed their muscles and showed why the Big 12 race is far from over Saturday afternoon in a 78-53 victory over West Virginia. It didn’t hurt that they pulled off the big win in front of over a dozen former KU basketball players sitting behind the home bench, watching the game from a slightly different view than they are used to.
In past battles with the Mountaineers, WVU took KU down to the wire, but this game required no extra time and proved the Jayhawks are no fluke. A struggling West Virginia team was outhustled and turnover prone throughout the game, which led head coach Bob Huggins to elaborate on KU’s defense after the game.
“We help make everybody look better,” Huggins said after the game. “I thought they were more aggressive and more physical than what they were in Morgantown.”
From the opening tip, the Jayhawks defensive prowess was different as three blocks were recorded in the first seven minutes with two from David McCormack and one from Mitch Lightfoot. The team had combined for only 12 blocks in its previous three outings and finished with six total on the game. Every minute was needed for the big men as they set the tone early for how KU’s defense would dictate the contest. McCormack helped the Jayhawks with a 10 point, 4 rebound effort including an impressive two steals and two blocks, while Lightfoot continued to be the energy-giver with five points and seven rebounds on the day.
The play of the day for Lightfoot, being his usual self, was his block on a layup attempt by West Virginia forward Derek Culver on one end before catching a no-look pass from Quentin Grimes on the following possession and throwing it down with force to bring the Jayhawk faithful to their feet.
A fast-paced tempo and hands in the passing lands proved effective as the Mountaineers needed until five minutes left in the first half to break double digits. After WVU jumped ahead on a 7-6 lead five minutes into the game, KU’s defense locked in. Kansas outscored the visitors 21-2 over the next nine minutes of game action, which included forcing six WVU turnovers. The intensity carried over after the break as the Jayhawks didn’t look back, finishing with seven steals on the game.
The KU defense forced the Mountaineers to a 20-of-59 shooting clip (33.9 percent), the second-lowest by a KU opponent in conference play this season. The Jayhawks also held the visitors to an impressive 3-of-23 line from behind the arc. As for the difference in intensity, junior forward Dedric Lawson has seen the work being put in during practice carry over into games.
“From practices to games, we’ve been more locked in, more focused and understanding” Lawson said. “I think this team has grown a lot in that way.”
Forcing 24 West Virginia turnovers, KU’s most against an opponent in over eight years, helped the team glide to a big victory that helped the Crimson and Blue move to within half a game within the Big 12 lead. The Jayhawks consistently communicated on defense and suffocated the Mountaineer’s roster, building on a brand of defense that Bill Self enjoys coaching: fast and smothering.
The Jayhawks look to continue their strong defensive efforts in Lubbock, Texas against Texas Tech on Saturday, February 23 at 7 p.m.
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