The Kansas Jayhawks (5-0) survived the emotional Wake Forest Demon Deacons yesterday, 87-78, for the right to play the Villanova Wildcats (5-0) at 8:30 p.m. CST Friday night, in the semi finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
After a sluggish start against the Deacons, Kansas sprinted out to a 14-point half time lead, due mainly because of the how hard the Jayhawks hit the offensive boards against the third ranked rebounding squad in the country coming in. Kansas won the rebounding battle 39-35.
Early in the second half, Kansas totally broke down defensively, and Wake Forest cut the lead down to four points. Head Coach Bill Self benched his starters, and inserted in his second five – Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp, Andrew White III, Jamari Traylor, and Joel Embiid – and the reserves re-established the double digit lead over the next 8 minutes of game time.
Kansas was helped along the way when the Demon Deacons were whistled for 3 technical fouls in less than a minute. Frankamp made 4 of the 6 ensuing free throws, and it helped establish a little bit of a cushion going down the stretch. Two of the technicals were on sophomore Devin Thomas, the Deacons’ leading rebounder and second leading scorer. Thomas was ejected with about 7 and a half minutes to play.
Sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre didn’t let Thomas’ exit daunt him. He kept his team in the ball game right until the end. He led all scorers with 26, including nailing some pressure three pointers down the stretch.
For Kansas, Andrew Wiggins led the way with 17 points, despite being under the weather and on the bench for a long stretch of time. Frank Mason (13) and Joel Embiid (10) joined him in double digits.
Perry Ellis led the team in rebounding with 7 despite not having that great of a game. Wiggins dished out the most assists (4), and recorded the most steals (3) in his 25 minutes.
Kansas did not have a great shooting the ball- from anywhere. They connected on just 29 of 62 from the field (46.8%), 3-15 for three-point range (20%), and 26-38 from the line (68.4% – although it seemed worse while watching the game). Wake Forest hit 46.4% of their shots in the game.
In the second half, as the Jayhawks were trying to stave off the Deacons come back, Frank Mason was the spark, as he has been so often this early season. The freshman point guard has been a gem thus far Kansas. His quickness and ability to penetrate really gives the Jayhawks an added dimension in the half court offense.
The Villanova Wildcats defeated USC 94-79 for their 5th win against no losses. The Wildcats have 5 players who average double figure scoring, led by junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who averages 18.6. Senior guard James Bell give Villanova an effective one-two punch as he drops in 17.8 a contest.
The 6’11″ sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu heads the list of Wildcat rebounders with an 8.6 mark. When Ochefu is out of the game, Villanove often go with a smaller lineup that is difficult for teams to guard.
Kansas will need every bit of its incredible depth as Villanova has 8 players who average 19 or more minutes a game, another who averages nearly 12 minutes, and yet another who logs 8 minutes a game. The Wildcats have just as many players to send into the fray as the Jayhawks so Kansas must be prepared to go toe-to-toe.
Villanova is similar to the Jayhawks in more than just depth. They both are getting up and down the floor, Kansas averages 87 points a game while the Wildcats poor in over 84 a contest. The Jayhawks pull down nearly 39 boards a game but the Wildcats average nearly 43. Both teams will share the ball as well – Kansas tallies 18.2 assists an outing while Villanova dishes out 17.6.
This should be a tough, gritty game between two undefeated opponents. Kansas must find their way on the defensive end of the floor. They are not going to be able to just rely on their depth and athleticism against teams as talented as Villanova. The Jayhawks have not been able to guard the perimeter all season and that is a big negative. Coach Self won’t be able to fix that over night but there must be progress sooner rather than later.
Against Wake Forest, Kansas struggled to finish off shots at the rim, something they had been good about over the first 4 games. They cannot be missing layups and 2-footers on a regular basis if they want their undefeated streak to continue much longer.
Kansas is talented, with on of the best coaching staffs in America, so if any team can start to improve rapidly, it can be this one. The coaches have to figure out a way to get the light switched on when they play defense.
This could be a scary game for the Jayhawks if they are not playing their best ball tonight.
Again, the game is at 8:30 p.m. CST and is on the NBC Sports Network.