Worries are only natural for any college basketball team attempting to navigate a long schedule. For players, though, identifying the most pressing concerns can be essential.
Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji struggled with a sub-40 percent shooting clip through the Maui Invitational, which the No. 2 Jayhawks captured to help fuel their current seven-game win streak.
In response to Agbaji’s early shooting slump, coach Bill Self stressed the need for the 6-foot-5 sophomore to crash the glass because of his length and also defend better by using his athleticism.
That seemed to make Agbaji quit fretting over his jumper as the Jayhawks (7-1) prepare to play host to Milwaukee (5-4) on Tuesday. Agbaji collected 20 points and 12 rebounds as Kansas smothered then-No. 20 Colorado 72-58 on Saturday.
“It was more on the defensive end, getting confidence there,” Agbaji said. “It was nice seeing the ball going in, but I tried to focus on both. Coming into this game, I had a different mindset. I didn’t really care if my shot was falling in or not, I just focused defensively because that’s where I get my energy from.”
Self agreed, beginning a remark by noting “you worry about the right things, and …” before commenting on Agbaji’s 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range against the Buffaloes.
The contribution Agbaji provided shows he can be a positive influence who presents opponents another challenge when facing the talent-rich Jayhawks.
Senior center Udoka Azubuike is a 7-footer who ranks as the nation’s most accurate shooter (.803) because of mismatches he poses underneath. Sophomore guard Devon Dotson runs the floor and leads the Big 12 with a 19.5-point average.
Yet Kansas possesses many additional threats, all of whom can heat up in any given game while trying to comply with Self’s defensive mandates.
“Moving forward, I’m not really trying to worry about if (the ball) goes in or not,” Agbaji said. “Defensively, I’m just focusing off of that and getting any energy I can on that.”
Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent against the Jayhawks, who are winning by an average of 17.7 points.
“We’re getting better defensively,” Self acknowledged.
Each of Milwaukee’s defeats have been by margins of six points or fewer, including a 56-53 loss at Drake on Dec. 3 in the Panthers’ first true road game. They were coming off a sixth-place finish at the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase.
“We made enough plays to win,” Milwaukee coach Pat Baldwin said of the loss at Drake, where the Panthers forged a tie with 17.8 seconds remaining on a layup by senior guard Darius Roy.
“Unfortunately, we had some plays we wish we could have back. It’s a learning lesson for us, and we’re just going to get back to the drawing board and get better.”
Four Panthers average double figures in scoring, led by junior guard Te’Jon Lucas, who missed the game at Drake. The Illinois transfer, who is from Milwaukee, averages 15 points and a team-high 4.5 assists. Junior backup guard Tyler Behrendt provided a spark with a career-high nine points against the Bulldogs.
“It’s not about one or two guys on our team; it’s about the collective whole,” Baldwin said. “We had some guys come off the bench and made some huge plays for us.”
–Field Level Media