Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. In Clemson head coach Brad Brownell’s postgame remarks, he singled out the sophomore Newman as a major reason why Kansas won the game — noting in particular that he made some very difficult shots. Newman finished with a team-high 17 points while hitting 6-of-11 from the field (4-of-7 from 3FG) and collecting seven rebounds. The versatile swingman has really come into his own since the beginning of the Big 12 Tournament and his ability to create spaces for himself on the offensive end is a major reason why the Jayhawks are still alive.

Quotable.

  • “For 30 minutes, I thought we played really well. We just kind of played not to lose down the stretch.” – Kansas coach Bill Self, providing his thoughts on his team’s performance tonight.
  • “My confidence just got high. I am not really out there thinking any more.” – Kansas guard Malik Newman, discussing what has sparked his recent offensive hot streak.
  • “I told the guys in the locker room. I have been here the last two years. We now just have to get over the hump.” – Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham, noting how he hopes this trip to the Elite Eight ends differently than it did for Kansas in the last two seasons.

Sights and Sounds. This was essentially a Kansas home game in Omaha. Playing only 90 minutes away from Lawrence definitely had its perks for the Jayhawks, as their fans filled up CenturyLink Arena and were actively involved throughout the game. It will be interesting to see if the Jayhawks’ faithful will be able to turn in a comparable effort on Sunday because they are likely to need it.

What’s Next. Kansas advances to the Elite Eight on Sunday where it will play the winner of Duke and Syracuse.

WCarey (279 Posts)


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