The Kansas Jayhawks (7-3) ended their two game losing streak with a 17-point win over the New Mexico Lobos (7-2) Saturday evening in the Sprint Center. Kansas looked much better in the 80-63 win than they had in their last several games.
The Jayhawks, who committed 24 turnovers on Tuesday against the Florida Gators, only turned the ball over 9 times against the Lobos. While New Mexico isn’t as talented or as deep as the Gators, they aren’t a cup cake either. Kansas had more success in scoring because they took better care of the basketball.
Perry Ellis paced the Jayhawks in scoring with 21 points. Joel Embiid netted 18 even though he took just 6 shots from the field. Andrew Wiggins had 11, and Wayne Selden Jr. dropped in 10 to Ellis and Embiid in double figures.
Ellis also led Kansas with 9 rebounds followed by Landon Lucas, who pulled in 5 while playing 10 quality minutes. Naadir Tharpe had a nice game dishing out assists with 9, while Embiid led the Jayhawks with 3 steals. The 7-foot freshman also had 4 blocks.
In the second half, New Mexico had no answer for Embiid who seems to improve with each game. It will be exciting to see how good he is by March.
Tharpe, who returned to the starting line up after being relegated to reserve status for a couple of games, did have 9 assists but he also had nearly half of the team’s 9 turnovers with 4. Even though some of his assists were quite spectacular in nature, he also made a number of sloppy passes that were deflected in the half court offense. His play certainly did not deserve the 37 playing minutes that he received.
Freshman Frank Mason, who started at point guard for the losses at Colorado and Florida, has been going through a rough patch but didn’t deserve to have his minutes cut down to six. He has got to have more steady playing time if he is going to get better, and contribute more down the stretch.
Fouls came into play, especially in the first half. The Kansas big men had 15 total fouls, and it got to the point late in the first half that Landon Lucas and Justin Wesley finished off the last 2 minutes before intermission. It is a good thing Kansas has 30 fouls to give among their big men since most of the fouls were accumulated while trying to help out when the perimeter defense broke down.
The Jayhawks did better in the second half but the Kansas guards have to learn to defend better.
The Lobos were led in scoring by Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams, who each dropped in 24. While they combined for 48 points, the rest of the Lobos only scored 15 total. Bairstow also led the team with 6 rebounds.
Kansas certainly played much better, especially when they defended better in the second half. The game was close before intermission but it wasn’t ugly like some of the previous outings. This game was a nice step in the right direction, though Kansas still has many things to improve on.
By Big 12 play, Head Coach Bill Self will have probably settled on a 9-man rotation. Right now, it looks like he is leaning toward the 4 primary reserves being Mason, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, and Lucas. Tarik Black, Conner Frankamp, and Andrew White III seem to be the three left out.
Black in particular has played himself to the bench as he has barely played over the past several games. Fouls, turnovers, and missed lay ups haven’t helped his cause at all.
The most puzzling player is White, who early in the season was the second guard off the bench. He hasn’t done anything noticeable in the games to indicate why his playing time as dropped, so he must not be practicing well.
Regardless, Kansas still can go 12 deep and few teams in the country can make that claim.
The Jayhawks will take the week off from games for finals and will finally return to Allen Fieldhouse next Saturday. The Georgetown Hoyas are coming to town and it should be whale of a game.