For a little guy, Kansas senior guard Devonte Graham casts a huge shadow.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other Jayhawks who can’t find their way into sunshine.
Saturday was an off night for Graham, the Big 12’s player of the year, in an NCAA Tournament second-round game against Seton Hall at Intrust Bank Arena.
Graham made only one field goal, on seven tries, and finished with eight points, 10 below his average. But while KU doesn’t have outstanding depth, the Jayhawks are capable of digging deep.
Malik Newman had his shovel against Seton Hall. So did Svi Mykhailiuk. And the big man, Udoke Azubuike, gave the Jayhawks 10 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes as he recovers better than expected from a sprained knee ligament.
The Jayhawks won, 83-79, to move on the Sweet 16 for the 31sttime.
Seton Hall, 10-8 in the Big East this season, didn’t get much of its leading scorer, either, as Desi Rodriguez was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
But a couple of Rodriguez’s Pirates mates made things tense for a strong pro-KU crowd late as guard Khade Carrington and center Angel Delgado combined for 52 points. Delgado also had 23 rebounds and finishes his career with 1,455, the seventh most in NCAA Division I history.
“He was a man,” Self said of the 6-foot-10 Delgado. “The thing that impresses me as much about him as anything, he never forces it. He takes his time and he’s probably as good a passer as he is a rebounder. He was great.”
So good that Self, who didn’t start Azbuike, wasted no time getting him into the game as it became apparent KU’s Mitchell Lightfoot was going to struggle with Delgado.
Self said he was hoping for 20 minutes from his big man and he got 22. Azubuike played on three minutes in KU’s first-round win over Penn on Thursday.
“Playing more was pretty much about my mindset,” Azubuike said. “I knew coming it the game that my team needed me. And I told my coaches yesterday, because Coach (Self) asked me if I was good to go, and I said, ‘Coach, I’m ready whenever you want me.”
Kansas would not have won without Azubuike’s contribution. Ditto for Newman, who made key free throws in the final minutes to help keep the Jayhawks in the lead.
Mykhailiuk and Vick combined for 29 points.
Graham, meanwhile, was out of sorts offensively. Besides not shooting well, he committed five of KU’s 11 turnovers, many of them early on. As the game continued, Graham settled into a facilitator role, handing out nine assists.
Newman said Graham never shows any dejection in the rare game when his shooting is off.
“He just tells us to keep being aggressive, to go out and make plays and to have fun,” Newman said. “We always believe that almost every shot he takes is going to go in so we tell him the same thing. He just does a great job of leading us and if his shot isn’t going in, he opens up seams and finds openings for us to get shots.”
Kansas gets the winner of Sunday’s second-round game between Auburn and Clemson in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Omaha. Then the Jayhawks could be pitted against Duke, Michigan State or Syracuse.
KU won its 14th consecutive Big 12 championship this season and the hits keep coming. No, there’s not a lot of depth on this team. But there’s an abundance of talent in the guys who play the bulk of the minutes.
And as Azubuike gets healthier, so do the Jayhawks’ chances of advances.
“With the NCAA Tournament, you don’t worry as much if you played well of if you played poorly,” Self said. “You worry more about whether we advance. And I think that’s all we did this weekend is that we advanced.
“I don’t think we were good against Penn, except for short stretches, and I don’t think we were good today. Of course, Seton Hall had a lot to do with that. But we did put ourselves in position where hopefully we’ll play better next week and play our best ball.”
How far can Kansas’s best ball get the Jayhawks?
Well, KU is one of 16 teams to advance to the next round. Fifty-two other NCAA Tournament teams weren’t as lucky.
The Jayhawks have five guys who can take them a long way, with a little help from their friends off the bench. And they have a Hall of Fame coach.
Kansas is one of the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds, but it doesn’t seem like many are giving the Jayhawks much of a chance to win a championship. Maybe that’s because Duke and Michigan State are also in the Midwest bracket.
But KU will have another strong “hometown” advantage next weekend in Omaha. It’ll feel a lot like being in Wichita, where thousands of KU fans packed into Intrust Bank Arena and surrounding streets to revel in the Jayhawks.
It was nice having KU in town. It would be nice to have them here more often – hint, hint. Hey, when all the dust settles from this postseason, how about working on an arrangement to play Wichita State?
For now, though, KU has other priorities. The Jayhawks have their sights set on Omaha.