Miami-Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is not well known for his excellent KU defenses, even in the most important moments and after the most impressive performances.
That's what made his love for the second team The stifling defense of Jayhawks in the first half in Saturday's 76-60 win over Syracuse at the American Airlines Arena was so remarkable.
"They lost shots, but I thought it was pretty good," said Self of KU's defense, using verbs that helped him adhere to his own standards on his favorite end of the floor. "You can not do much better than keeping them at 21 points (in the first half), so I was happy with that, it was the reason why we had the advantage at halftime, it certainly was not because our offense was so fluid"
Kansas basketball v. Syracuse (Hoophall Miami Invitational)
See an image gallery of the Jayhawks' match against The Orange on Saturday, December 2, 2017 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
On a night when Kansas got another career performance from head setter Devonte & Graham, who tied the best mark of her career with 35 points in 10- of 17 shots, including seven three-pointers Three punches, the Jayhawks (7-0) needed every ounce of defensive concentration they could muster and deliver.
Syracuse (6-1) pitched 32 percent for the game: 22 percent from the 3-point range and made just five field goals throughout the first half.
"Kansas is a tremendous team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said casually after the loss of his team. "But we have to play better offensively against them." Our offense was not good enough today. And part of that was that they're also a very good defensive team. "
It's a good comment from a coach whose team, for decades, has been known for its famous 2-3 zone, and Orange saw that it worked well at the beginning. of the Jayhawks.
Kansas made one of its first six attempts on 3-pointers on Saturday, but soon saw the recession straighten when Graham started to heat up, KU finished the half with five of his next 10 triples and drained 11 of 31 for the game, making enough to move to Orange and his zone.
"Kansas is averaging 90 points per game," Boeheim said. "Our defense was not the problem."
With the usual KU bombers fighting to get going, Malik Newman was 0-for-6 from deep, Lagerald Vick 1-of-5 and Svi Mykhailiuk 3-of-7 – The Jayhawks often looked for other ways to get past the top of the zone, and they came in the form of balloons that changed the momentum Nice for the crowd.
Udoka Azubuike finished some. Vick stole the show with two of his own. And even Mykhailiuk and Mitch Lightfoot found themselves on the receiving end of those pbades, most coming from Graham (five badists) and Vick (seven badists), who led the Kansas offense in the best way possible.
Overall, Saturday's game felt like one of those rectifiers you get in March, although the Jayhawks held a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
After leading by 14 at halftime, KU started a 6-0 run to start the second half, pushing the lead to 20 and forcing Boeheim to take a break. It worked.
Halfway through the second half, Orange had cut the KU lead to only seven, but every time they threatened to get closer, Graham showed why people talk about him as a legitimate candidate for some serious honors in a few months .
"He chose his points well," said Self about his point guard, who once again proved that he is the emotional and performance leader of this Kansas team.
Problems with faults also played a role in this case, although it did not cost Kansas nearly as much as it seemed.
After picking up his first foul at 17:07 and No. 2 a little over three minutes later, Azubuike sat for the final 10:39 of the first half. While that might not be so bad most nights, it was made worse by the fact that the sophomore sub Mitch Lightfoot joined him in large part. That forced Self to turn to Clay Young, whose nine strong minutes helped Kansas extend his one-man advantage when he entered at 14 for the break.
"The referees called everything," said Azubuike. "That's the game sometimes, you have to work in sections like that and Clay came and helped us a lot."
Added: "I thought in the break that there was no way for Mitch and Dok to commit six fouls in the second half, so I did not even think we were in fouling trouble with those guys, I thought they could play substantial minutes and they did it for the most part. "
Graham scored 19 of the 35 points that tied his career in the second half and was also at the end of what turned out to be the exclamation point on this one.
With the Jayhawks running across the floor for a rare quick break opportunity, Graham fired one of those balloons at Vick, who hit with a trip with his left hand and waved at the Kansas bank with his right when he landed.
That pushed KU's lead to 64-47 and Syracuse never crawled closer than nine the rest of the way.
"I've been doing very bad tricks lately," Graham explained after the winner. "I've been pulling them too far back, when I threw it at him, I did not think I was going to catch him, but he came up and made an athletic play and I hope we do SportsCenter."
If that work was not on Saturday's popular featured show, there's little doubt that several others made by Graham.
After returning home, KU will face Washington on Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
By the numbers: Kansas 76, Syracuse 60