LAWRENCE — In points scored Saturday, Dedric Lawson had Marcus Garrett bested by 27. In rebounds, the junior forward had his sophomore guard counterpart topped by eight.
Still, in the aftermath of top-ranked Kansas basketball’s 74-71 victory over then-No. 17 Villanova at Allen Fieldhouse, the game’s most impactful player had something he wanted to say about a teammate who the Jayhawks (9-0) might very well not have won without.
“We look at the stat sheet and we see he had one point, but he does so much for the team and he’s so valuable to us,” Lawson said of Garrett. “It really don’t go unnoticed, especially in my eyes.”
The same is likely true of Jayhawk fans, who by now are used to these kinds of showings from the team’s defensive ace.
Garrett had a career-high-tying four steals and team-highs of three assists and three offensive rebounds in the victory over the Wildcats, throwing in a block for good measure. He also played tough defense on Villanova senior forward Eric Paschall — last year’s Final Four villain, who has Garrett bested by three inches and at least 55 pounds, scored 17 points on just 4-for-10 shooting. He was held without a second-half rebound.
It was a far cry from Paschall’s 24-point performance on 10-of-11 shooting in the Wildcats’ national semifinal victory over the Jayhawks.
“I just tried to stay attached to him,” Garrett said. “During the film I saw if you fell for his jab he was just going to jump over and shoot, so I just tried to stay as close as possible to him so he couldn’t rise (up) over me and shoot.”
As for his four-steal performance, Garrett attributed that to film study sessions, where he is able to pick up on opposing players’ tendencies and figure out when to strike.
“When I see the ball in front of my guy, I basically just try to reach,” Garrett said. “Most of the time when the offensive player catches the ball they’re not really holding it tight, they’re trying to run a play, so I just try to get my hand in there.”
KU coach Bill Self said Garrett did a “fabulous job” on Paschall, and while he acknowledged the Jayhawks are “playing shorthanded on the perimeter” with the sophomore garnering significant minutes — Garrett is shooting 31.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range — he still indicated the guard contributed a game-changing defensive performance in his 37 minutes on the floor.
“He’s a good player. If he had a consistent stroke, he would be our best player. I mean, our best all-around player,” Self said. “He can play and he’s got fast hands and he’s tough and he does all the right things.”
In describing Tuesday what makes Garrett an effective defender, Self indicated it was a combination of the guard’s intelligence, effort and ability.
“I’d say effort, but that’s obviously a part of anything you do athletically,” Self said. “Most of it is skill and smarts. He understands angles. He understands how to take space away. He understands scouting report. He certainly is a good team defender.”
Self credited Garrett’s former instructor, Skyline (Texas) High School coach Paul Graham, for the Garrett’s college-ready defense. Graham and Self worked together in the early 1990s as assistants at Oklahoma State under legendary coach Eddie Sutton.
“He learned how to guard by being around somebody that learned from one of the very best of all time,” Self said of Garrett. “He’s just very good at it.”
Every team has a best defender, Self said, but few have one as good as Garrett.
“When we recruited him, we recruited him to be exactly what he’s being,” Self said. “We’d like for him to be a 40 percent 3-point shooter right now, but that’s not going to happen, at least at this stage in his career. But the things he does in other areas are probably more valuable than him being a prolific scorer for us.
“I think he’s doing well. He’s certainly played a pivotal role in the games that we’ve won where we’ve had to fight.”
Lawson wasn’t the only Jayhawk to praise Garrett over the last week. In fact, he wasn’t the only member of his immediate family to do so.
Sophomore combo guard K.J. Lawson, who is defended by Garrett at practices, said that experience has helped elevate his own game.
“I like to compete, he likes to compete,” K.J. Lawson said. “It’s good to have the best defender on you because you know that you’re not going to take any plays off when you have people that take pride in what they do, That’s what every player is trying to do on this team — take pride in not letting people score.”
DOKE UPDATE — Injured junior center Udoka Azubuike (sprained ankle) won’t play in the Jayhawks’ 7 p.m. contest today against South Dakota (6-5), but Self didn’t rule out a potential return to action for the 7-footer in KU’s first true road contest, an 8 p.m. Saturday battle at No. 18 Arizona State.
Azubuike returned to half-court drills during Monday’s practice. KU won’t risk re-injury with Azubuike, but the nature of the injury appears to create more of a pain-tolerance situation than anything else.
“I think it’d be important to get him out there as soon as he can before we start conference play for sure,” Self said. “I don’t know if that’s this week or right after Christmas, (but) I think that is important.”