LAWRENCE — Hacked, bumped and, on at least one occasion, allegedly kneed in the caboose, Dedric Lawson nevertheless kept his cool in Monday’s big contest against No. 24 Iowa State.
If the Kansas basketball forward was at all bothered by the physicality of the high-stakes clash, well, it didn’t show until the victorious Jayhawk was asked about matching the Cyclones’ physicality in the postgame news conference.
“Yeah,” Lawson replied, “they was foulin’.”
The answer elicit laughter from the room, including from teammate Devon Dotson, who wheezed at the response.
“That’s just how you play once you start posting up and they start pushing back,” he said. “You just need to keep battling, keep battling — no resisting. I just wanted to be as aggressive as possible on the offensive end and get going. Even if I wasn’t touching the ball, (just) get rebounds, put-backs, easy baskets to get me going.
“We did a great job. We bounced back. They were throwing haymakers, and we were still standing.”
Still standing atop the Big 12 standings, largely thanks to Lawson.
The standout junior notched his 13th double-double on the season, scoring 29 points on 13-for-17 shooting and adding 15 rebounds, and the ninth-ranked Jayhawks won the battle of first-place squads, 80-76. Lawson’s 3-point make with 23 seconds left gave KU (16-3, 5-2) a five-point lead and proved to be the most pivotal moment of the contest, which the Jayhawks led for just four minutes and 43 seconds.
Bill Self was even more impressed with Lawson’s performance given the knock-down, drag-out nature of the game, a tilt with officiating the KU coach implied did his star forward no favors.
“I don’t understand the emphasis in the rules,” Self said in his postgame radio interview. “They say you can’t put a knee up the guy’s butt when you’re posting up, and (Iowa State) rode him out the entire game. We didn’t get the call once. We tried to move him around a little bit more, but the bottom line is he just toughed it out.”
That toughness is as encouraging as any other result stemming from Monday’s contest, with the 6-foot-9, 235-pounder showing five-man physicality in the Jayhawks’ sixth game without injured starting center Udoka Azubuike.
“Anybody who knows Dedric knows his thighs are about as thick as his calves, and he’s got real skinny legs,” Self said. “He doesn’t have the base, so when people push on him it’s hard for him to hold his position. Certainly (Iowa State) did a really good job of knocking him off the block, but still, he managed to maneuver around there.”
Still just a 25.8-percent shooter from 3-point range, Lawson’s 2-for-2 effort beyond the arc Monday may have caught some off guard, including the Cyclones. Anyone who saw Lawson during pregame, however, may have had an inkling — “In shoot-around today he was jacking around because we were trying to get into our little practice part of our shoot-around and he kept shooting because he made like 14 in a row,” Self recalled.
Lawson said he forced himself to get to Allen Fieldhouse early to familiarize himself with the rim and get in some extra practice time. Before that, he spent time reviewing video of how the Cyclones limited him in the teams’ previous clash, a 77-60 victory for ISU that saw Lawson finish with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting with 12 rebounds and six turnovers.
This time, Lawson was ready for the Cyclones’ physicality — even if it’s debatable whether the same could be said of the officiating.
“Once I’m trying to get position they just push me out, and once I’m trying to get position (the officials) say, ‘Knock it off,’ ” Lawson said. “Not to talk bad about the refs, but I’m just trying to fight and battle for position. ...
“It sometimes makes the passer scared to make the pass, scared to make the post entry just because they don’t know if I’m going to catch it just because a guy might knock me over to get it or whatever the outcome may be.”
Despite the limited flash built into his fundamentally sound repertoire, Lawson added a handful of moments to his season highlight reel, including the pair of 3s, a hook shot that kissed perfectly off the glass and a first-half spin move and layup that was a postgame source of pride.
“I got ’em one time,” Lawson said. “I heard their coach say, ‘Get out there. He can make it.’ I drove and I knew, once you drive, the guy, he was trying to catch back up. I just hit him with the spin move.”
Lawson also recorded a block and an assist across 38 minutes, with seven of his 15 boards coming on the offensive glass. It was a performance Self later labeled “unbelievable.”
“He just played so good,” Self said. “People just play behind him and bang on him. He held his composure and he had a great game.”
The Memphis, Tenn., native, though, didn’t label the effort his best as a collegiate player.
That, he hinted, is still to come.
“Nah. It’s not. No, it’s not there,” Lawson said. “We’ll just keep getting better. We’ll just keep getting better.”