AUSTIN, Texas — One longstanding Kansas basketball streak was extended Friday night. Lights-out 3-point shooting ensured the Jayhawks started defense of a second on the right foot.
KU hit 17 of 35 attempts from beyond the arc, including 11 of 20 in the second half, en route to a 92-86 victory against Texas at Frank Erwin Center. It was the 27th consecutive victory in a conference opener for the No. 11-ranked Jayhawks, who are seeking their record-breaking 14th straight regular-season conference championship.
Staring down — or, in this case, up at — Texas’ 6-foot-11 freshman forward Mo Bamba and his 7-9 wingspan, Bill Self knew the Jayhawks (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) would need to shoot a high volume of 3s. Actually, the KU coach was even more specific in his pregame prognostication.
“I told ’em before the game, ‘We’re going to shoot 35 3s,’ ” Self said. “I told ’em 40 but then I said, ‘Nah, that’s too many. They’ll shoot 40 if I tell them to.’ ”
Devonte’ Graham had a game-high 23 points on 6-for-15 shooting, with all six makes coming from 3-point range. Lagerald Vick (21 points) and Svi Mykhailiuk (20 points) each had five made treys, while Malik Newman (13 points) and Udoka Azubuike (13 points, 13 rebounds) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Jayhawks.
“You make 17 3s, I don’t know if you call it gritty when you do that,” Self said. “But … we competed hard. I thought our kids really competed hard, and I thought Devonte’ had command of the game, and Lagerald may have been the best player in the game besides Bamba, and then Svi in the second half was unreal.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the barrage beyond the arc? Texas (9-3, 0-1) entered the game limiting foes to 28.2 percent shooting from 3-point range.
“We’ve defended on the perimeter really, really well all year, and we were not as good, obviously, defending out there, and Kansas had a lot to do with that,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “But we can never be surprised when a team like that shoots a 3, and I thought there were some plays like that.”
Ahead of his own postgame interview, Smart huddled a pair of his players in the media room and told them if there’s one lesson they learn from this, it’s that the Longhorns don’t have to limit a team like KU to seven 3s — just aim for something like 12, and certainly don’t surrender 17.
“They tested us,” Texas guard Matt Coleman said. “They got a few open looks (and) they hit them with a hand in their face. They had it going. I give them credit making 17 (3s). It’s very difficult. It’s like playing the Warriors almost.”
Bamba, sitting to Coleman’s side, nodded and chimed in.
“Yep,” he said.
The Jayhawks overcame a career-high 22 points from the projected NBA Draft lottery pick Bamba, who had 15 rebounds and eight blocks but did most of his damage in the first half.
“Guy could’ve blocked the sun,” Self said of Bamba. “Is that a solar or lunar eclipse … that we had a few months ago? But yeah, I was concerned. We were kind of a beat-up team. Doke (Azubuike), we didn’t know if he was going to play until game time, but we had some guys play really well individually and we shot the heck out of the ball. We needed to though.”
Azubuike played through severe pain — the 7-footer tweaked his back in the days leading up to the conference opener and found it difficult to simply sit down — but Self said he thought the sophomore center played well given the circumstances.
Azubuike said he wasn’t sure if the injury was short- or long-term but added he’s hopeful the three-day break between games will help his recovery.
“I thought Doke, in all honesty, he was pretty timid early and he had to prove to himself he could let it go before he could really let it go physically,” Self said, “and I thought after he got hit a couple times and knew he was OK, I thought he was pretty effective after that. Didn’t neutralize (Bamba) by any stretch — I’m not saying that at all — but if you erase the first five minutes where Doke was 0-fer and Mohamed probably had 11 points, it was a pretty even matchup after that except for shot blocking, obviously.”
KU hit six of its first eight second-half 3-point attempts to turn a one-possession game at the break into a 13-point lead, 62-49, with 13:35 to play. Mykhailiuk and Vick each had a pair of treys in the stretch, while Graham’s 3 finished the rally. After draining the shot, Graham threw up a 3-point-goggles gesture with a single hand — a 3-point monocle, perhaps — and directed it at the Longhorn band.
Texas, though, hung around thanks in part to sharp free throw shooting — the Longhorns were 17 for 21 from the line, and Eric Davis’ pair of makes cut the deficit to five, 72-67, with 7:25 to play. But 3-point answers from Vick and Mykhailiuk again made the lead nine less than two minutes later, and Newman’s emphatic driving dunk gave KU an 81-69 edge with 3:43 left and elicited a technical foul from Smart.
Graham made both of the ensuing free throw attempts for the 14-point lead, and while a late 10-0 run cut the deficit to four with 22.7 seconds left, Newman hit four clutch free throws to ice the victory.
Three-point shooting, Graham said, “can be” the Jayhawks’ identity — KU now has three games this season with at least 16 makes from beyond the arc — but emphasized defense still wins championships, citing a 2-3 zone the team went to for long stretches against Texas.
“At one point we were just trading baskets,” Graham said. “I know that’s fun for y’all to watch, but we need to get stops. We can still run and get in transition and stuff like that, but we don’t have that many players and we get tired. It’s best to slow it down. We execute plays pretty well so we just slow it down and play our pace.”
The Jayhawks return to action for their Big 12 home opener, an 8 p.m. Tuesday clash with No. 22 Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse. The Red Raiders (12-1) routed No. 18 Baylor, 77-53, in their conference home opener Friday.
“Texas Tech had an unbelievable performance at home obviously and we have them next,” Self said. “So yeah, this is going to be an up-and-down, ebb-and-flow, can’t get too low, can’t get too high (conference) because they’ll always be a tough one the next one.
“It’s going to be a great league. I don’t know if it’s going to be fun, but it’ll be fun to cover.”
FROSH GARRETT DRAWS START — Freshman guard Marcus Garrett started in place of the sophomore Newman in what Self said was a coach’s decision. Garrett had two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes Friday, while Newman played 29 minutes.
Self acknowledged Newman is dealing with a foot ailment but said that wasn’t a factor in the decision.
“That’s not why (Garrett) started,” Self said. “We just wanted to try something different and get some energy. I thought Marcus actually played pretty well. I thought he was active. … I thought Malik gave us some good minutes as well.”
DE SOUSA TRAVELS WITH TEAM — The newest Jayhawk, 6-9 forward Silvio De Sousa, made the trip to Austin but didn’t play.
De Sousa joined KU on Wednesday after receiving academic clearance to practice with the team and is awaiting NCAA approval to appear in games. The No. 29 player in 247sports’ national composite rankings of the Class of 2018, De Sousa was participated in warm-ups but was not allowed to sit on the KU bench during the contest.