LAWRENCE — Whether Kansas basketball deserves its status as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team remains unclear following an uneven performance Thursday in its exhibition finale.
Whether the Jayhawks are ready for prime time? Well, that answer will be made crystal clear in a matter of days.
KU downed Washburn 79-52 in its second of two exhibition games ahead of a high-profile Champions Classic clash against No. 10 Michigan State at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Indianapolis. For a second time, though, the Jayhawk offense looked at times sloppy and stilted in an Allen Fieldhouse tilt against a Division II foe.
It was a somewhat lethargic performance for KU, particularly in the first half — “We came out there nonchalant,” admitted sophomore guard Marcus Garrett — though, according to WU coach Brett Ballard, onlookers should hold off on judging these Jayhawks.
“I’ve been in that locker room and you’re trying to get the guys motivated to play these games,” said Ballard, a former KU player (2000-02) and staff member (2003-10). “They know who they’re playing next Tuesday, so it’s hard for those coaches because they’re going to be jacked up to play next Tuesday.”
The Jayhawks carried a 35-21 advantage at the end of an eyesore of a first half.
WU shot 26.7 percent from the field and committed nine turnovers in the opening period, but the game stayed within striking distance thanks to an 11-turnover half by the Jayhawks, who committed 22 in their exhibition opener against Emporia State. WU’s Javion Blake led all scorers with 11 points and three 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, but no other Ichabod scored more than three points.
WU cut the deficit to seven, 35-28, on the strength of a 7-0 run to start the second half, but from that point on, the Jayhawks put on display the talent that made them the nation’s top-ranked team in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches preseason polls.
KU reeled off a 33-5 response, powered by a 6-for-7 shooting stretch from beyond the arc, to double up WU 68-33 and ice the outcome with 10 minutes to play. Dedric Lawson drained three 3s for KU in the decisive stretch. A final blow and rare highlight was delivered with just under six minutes to go when, after a hustle block by freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, freshman forward David McCormack threw down a thunderous put-back dunk in transition that ballooned the KU advantage to 31.
“It was good to see us get on a little bit of a roll there in the second half, even after we subbed,” KU coach Bill Self said. ”... A lot of the game we were duds, but I thought we did show some flashes.”
From there, the game became a countdown to the “Rock Chalk” chant — and to next week’s season-opening showdown with the Spartans.
Lawson led all scorers with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting and a 4-for-4 effort from beyond the arc, with Azubuike (17 points) and Lagerald Vick (16 points, four 3s) rounding out KU’s double-digit scorers. The Jayhawks finished with 23 assists and 20 turnovers, highlighting the mixed bag of an evening.
The KU bench was outscored by its WU counterparts, 25-24.
“I actually thought if we hadn’t subbed we would’ve played really well tonight,” Self said. “Our bench wasn’t very good tonight, but I thought our starters played really well. ... The starters played the same number of minutes as the bench and the starters had 16 assists and seven turnovers in 100 minutes and scored 55 points, so there were some good things that they did.”
Blake finished with 14 points to pace WU, which shot just 32.3 percent from the field.
Like Ballard, Self indicated any unease among KU fans following the ho-hum efforts in the team’s exhibition contests may be premature.
Michigan State, it seems, will be the real litmus test.
“We haven’t run one play yet. We haven’t put in a crutch,” Self said. “So I’m hopeful that we make (Michigan State) do something that they haven’t seen yet. ... We’ll have to play a lot better than what we’ve played, but hopefully we’ll also raise our level in a way that maybe we haven’t seen yet too going up there.”