No. 6 Kansas looks for defensive solutions against St. Joe’s

NCAA Men's Basketball

Following a season-opening defeat Thursday, Kansas coach Bill Self called his team’s loose defensive performance a “great teaching tape.”

The only problem is the No. 6 Jayhawks (0-1) have little time to go over any glaring details. A second game in the Fort Myers Tip-Off is scheduled Friday against St. Joseph’s (0-1) at Fort Myers, Fla.

A 102-90 setback to No. 1 Gonzaga marked the most points scored in regulation against Kansas under Self, who is in his 18th season.

In Thursday’s other game at Fort Myers, St. Joseph’s gained its first lead of the second half inside the final minute before Auburn forged overtime and nipped the Hawks, 96-91.

For Kansas, the absence of 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike is the most obvious difference from last season, when the Jayhawks were poised to claim the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament before that event was canceled.

Without the rim protection provided by Azubuike, a first-round selection of the Utah Jazz in the recent NBA draft, the Jayhawks allowed a whopping 62 points in the paint to Gonzaga.

“Our transition defense was non-existent, and our ball-screen defense was awful,” Self said. “There were some guys individually who did some good things but you could tell we missed (Azubuike).”

In his place, the Jayhawks started David McCormack, but the 6-10 junior drew a quick foul and never looked aggressive underneath. He scored eight points on 3-for-9 shooting and added six rebounds with four turnovers as Self resorted to playing a five-guard lineup much of the game.

Gonzaga’s 33-24 rebounding advantage was accentuated by 64.5 percent shooting. The Jayhawks’ top defensive stopper, senior guard Marcus Garrett, had to provide offensive punch. He scored a team-high 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting, while another veteran guard, Ochai Agbaji, added 17.

“We played individual ball as opposed to team ball,” said Self, “especially on the defensive end.”

While Self mentioned the instructional benefit of the loss after finishing 28-3 last season, Friday’s quick turnaround demands that the Jayhawks focus on their immediate task.

“We’ve got to get ready to play St. Joe’s. That’s the bottom line,” Self said. “They’ve got one kid that can make us look foolish.”

That would be 6-5 senior guard Ryan Daly, whose 20.6-point average led the Atlantic-10 last season. Daly posted 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists Thursday as the Hawks, coming off a last-place finish in the A-10, extended Auburn into OT.

“We had a rough year (last season) record-wise,” said Daly, “but we were in a lot of those games and I think we’re going to learn how to win this year and we’re going to surprise some people for sure.”

St. Joseph’s was outrebounded 56-39, a differential that helped Auburn enjoy a 14-point advantage in second-chance points.

Nonetheless, it was obvious the Hawks have more firepower to align with Daly. Junior forward Taylor Funk, who missed the last 25 games last season with an injury, netted a game-high 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting.

–Field Level Media

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