LAWRENCE — Mo Bamba didn’t intimidate Marcus Garrett, and in that regard, the towering Texas forward wasn’t unlike most challenges the Kansas basketball freshman has faced this season.
Drawing his first start since a one-off opportunity in the season opener, Garrett had arguably KU’s most exciting in-the-paint highlight Friday in an evening devoid of them thanks to the presence of the Longhorns’ 6-foot-11 ace rim protector. Garrett’s up-and-under reverse layup midway through the first half was the Jayhawks’ best attack on Bamba — who finished with eight blocks — as KU won its Big 12 opener 92-86.
The play dazzled, but as Garrett recalled Sunday, he didn’t really have another option.
“When I drove to the goal I looked to my right and I just seen him coming,” Garrett said. “I knew if I would’ve went straight up he would’ve had an easier chance at blocking, so I wanted to take it to the other side and just use the rim and give him a harder path to block the shot.”
It worked, and while that bucket represented Garrett’s only make in a two-point, 1-for-3-shooting performance in 18 minutes, the guard did enough to earn his second consecutive start when the No. 10-ranked Jayhawks (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) host No. 18 Texas Tech (12-1, 1-0) at 8 p.m. today in Allen Fieldhouse.
Garrett’s stat line against the Longhorns may not have jumped out to the average onlooker, but KU coach Bill Self said the first-yearplayer again did all the little things — something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for the 6-5, 180-pound spark plug.
“I thought he did good,” Self said. “You know, we keep these energy points for miscellaneous things … deflections, steals, dives on thefloor, dunks, offensive rebound attempts, offensive rebounds — all of these things. I believe he graded out with the second-most on theteam behind Udoka (Azubike), and Udoka, it’s easier for him to get ’em because a dunk counts and blocked shots count.
“I’m encouraged with Marcus. I thought he played pretty well.”
Even in limited action — he is appearing in 20.5 minutes per game, the second-lowest mark of the seven rotation players the Jayhawkshave had for the full season — Garrett has turned heads with his defense. He has notched double-digit steals in eight of KU’s 13contests, including three of the team’s last four games.
Garrett, who played under former Washington State head coach and Kansas City, Kan., native Paul Graham at Skyline High School inDallas, said he views defense as the key component to any game.
“I feel like if you can stop a team from scoring you can win the game,” Garrett said. “So when I come out on the court I just try to stopmy man from scoring as best I can.”
Garrett’s freshman campaign hasn’t been perfect. He’s shot 41.3 percent from the floor and 19 percent from 3-point range en route toaveraging 3.8 points and, after reaching double figures in scoring in three of his first five games, hasn’t reached that mark since Nov.24. He’s missed his last 10 attempts beyond the arc, a stretch that dates back to a three-make game Nov. 21.
Self said he still believes Garrett “can play a lot better” and added driving and finishing at the rim as he did against Bamba should bethe guard’s bread and butter.
“He’s got to get to the point where he can keep people honest with his shot,” Self said, “and right now he hasn’t shot it well the pastseveral games.”
Still, there’s yet to be a game this season where the offensively loaded Jayhawks have needed Garrett to score. When he starts againstthe Red Raiders, Garrett will be on the floor with four teammates averaging at least 15.3 points.
“Of course (it helps),” Garrett said. “Knowing you’ve got people around you that can go score the ball any time, it always takes pressureoff you.”
There’s one more piece to this evolving lineup puzzle for the Jayhawks — sophomore guard Malik Newman, who has been slowed witha sore foot but didn’t start against Texas in what Self called a coach’s decision and a desire to inject a higher activity level into thestarting lineup.
Newman is averaging 10.6 points and, if there’s a silver lining to the decision to move him into the sixth-man role, it could be inproviding a lift in an area that has been nonexistent to this point in the season for the Jayhawks.
“You know what, we’ve been getting no offense off the bench,” Self said. “If this is handled correctly and minds are right and it doesn’taffect people, it could end up being kind of a bonus for us, I think.”