Defense powers Washington’s upset of No. 2 Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Well, a 2-3 zone does work against Kansas.
Four days after the No. 2 Jayhawks shot over the top of such a defense to beat Syracuse, a former assistant for the Orange extended the alignment a bit Wednesday to help Washington stun previously unbeaten Kansas 74-65 in Sprint Center.
“We’re not going to lose by the 3-point shot,” first-year Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. “They’re all very dangerous shooters, and we just tried to focus to take that away from the game.”
There were consequences. Junior guard Lagerald Vick netted a career-best 28 points for the Jayhawks, but each of his 12 field goals came from 2-point range.
“If he gets 50 points by scoring twos, that’s what we’re going to go with,” Hopkins added. “Trust me, it’s hard seeing a guy hit three or four in a row, but we just forced him to miss a couple, and we were able to score and keep our lead.”
Indeed, the Huskies (7-2) led throughout the second half, though the Jayhawks (7-1) closed the margin to 53-52 on a lob to sophomore center Udoka Azubuike with 9:43 remaining.
That dunk energized a previously quiet crowd, but Hopkins called a timeout and Washington responded with seven consecutive points to launch a 13-2 run. The Huskies were never again threatened.
Junior guard Matisse Thybulle scored 19 points to lead the Huskies, who became the second straight Pac-12 team to beat Kansas in Kansas City. Oregon claimed an Elite Eight win over Kansas in last year’s NCAA Tournament at Sprint Center, where the Jayhawks have lost three of their last four.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I’m not going to accept this and say this was a good thing, because it’s not, but you could see this coming as a coach. We had a situation against Syracuse where one guy bailed us out.”
That player was senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who posted a second straight 35-point performance against the Orange. He was limited to three points on 1-for-8 shooting by the Huskies. Graham also scored three points in last year’s NCAA defeat to Oregon.
“We just got to come in more mentally prepared,” said Graham, whose only points came on a 3-pointer with 4:02 left in the first half. “We can’t count on the crowd to bring our energy and get stops.”
Washington was the aggressor throughout the game as freshman guard Jaylen Nowell added 17 points. Junior guard David Crisp added 10 points and seven assists, while junior forward Noah Dickerson posted a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“From the beginning of the season it was on us, we knew it was going to be on us to believe in us and we weren’t going to have a lot of help on our side,” Thybulle said. “We realized from the jump, at Pac-12 media day, they had us selected 10th and people didn’t believe we couldn’t do anything this season.”
Maybe with good reason after a 9-22 finish a year ago prompted a coaching change.
All of the Huskies’ wins going into the Kansas upset had been at home. Their two defeats were to Providence and Virginia Tech, but they led the Jayhawks by as many as 14.
In spite of a defensive effort that held Kansas to 45.2 percent shooting, well below the 53.5 percent clip the Jayhawks had coming in, Hopkins credited his offense. The Huskies were deliberate in the half-court, hitting 48.3 percent of their field-goal attempts, and also cashed in for a 16-8 edge in points off turnovers.
“The biggest thing is can you score against Kansas,” Hopkins said. “I thought the guys executed and made shots.”
NOTES: Sophomore F James Sosinski, a 6-foot-7 tight end on the football team whom Kansas worked out to establish more depth, suited up for the first time. He didn’t get into the game. ... Senior G Devonte’ Graham’s back-to-back 35-point performances marked the first time a Jayhawk scored that many in consecutive games since 1970, when Dave Robisch scored 39 and 38. ... Kansas coach Bill Self became a grandfather for the first time Tuesday when his daughter, Lauren, gave birth to a girl. ... Washington wore its road jerseys for the first time after getting all six of its wins at home and also wearing home jerseys in two New York games earlier this season.