Kansas dominated the first half but had to hold on for a 69-62 win.
That great Kansas defense we talked about for a while now showed but big time in the first half against Oklahoma on Thursday. The Jayhawks held the Sooners to just 15 points in the first half for a 20 point lead at the break.
But the second half was another story. Oklahoma put up 47 points and forced Kansas to hold them off to advance to the Big 12 semifinals on Friday night.
Kansas was without David McCormack and Tristian Enaruna in this game because of the covid. The question was how much would Bill Self use his small lineup versus how much would he play with Mitch Lightfoot? It turned out that Self started the small lineup and didn’t bring Lightfoot into the game until the ten-minute mark of the first half. Bryce Thompson got the start in place of McCormack.
But the Jayhawks played well with both approaches in the first half. Everything was clicking for Kansas and going wrong for Oklahoma regardless of which group was in the game. And it was equally bad for both groups in the second half. Mitch Lightfoot ended up playing 20 minutes to split the two approaches evenly in this game.
But the star of the game for Kansas was Ochai Agbaji. He struggled to find his shot early, but he kept shooting as Self has told him to do all season. If he had become afraid to pull the trigger, Kansas would have lost this game. Agbaji ended with a career-high 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-8 behind the arc. There was even a stretch in the second half when Agbaji scored 14 consecutive points for the Jayhawks, including three consecutive trips down the court in which he made a three-point shot.
With Kansas playing small and switching everywhere early, Oklahoma’s Brady Manek tried to take advantage of his height advantage and posted up his defender. Initially, it worked, but eventually, Self switched up the defense and doubled Manek when he received the ball down low.
Dajuan Harris played big for Kansas. He did the little things that he always does along with playing great defense, but he was more aggressive attacking the basket on offense in this game. He might not be an outside threat yet, but Harris has to be willing to drive to the basket for a layup or a short floater. He did this well on Thursday.
The game initially looked to be a tight one the entire way as Oklahoma made three of their first four shots. The Sooner would then proceed to make just three more shots in the first half.
Bill Self also had Marcus Garrett post up his defender when guarded by a smaller player. Garrett, like Harris, is not known for his outside shooting, but he has learned from Kansas point guards before him and is quite good at driving to the basket to score and often draws a foul.
It was a tale of two halves. Kansas was fortunate to build a 20 point halftime lead to withstand the Oklahoma run in the second half.
Kansas will play Texas on Friday. Texas won the first two meetings between these schools this season.