For most of this season, Kansas sophomore Elijah Johnson has entered games from the bench — a role he says is difficult to master.
He used an analogy Thursday to explain.
“It’s just like a stepchild,” Johnson said with a grin. “You’ve got your kids, then a stepchild is going to try to come and blend in, but your kids just know how to do it and go with the flow.”
As a starter in Monday’s 92-65 victory over Oklahoma State, Johnson said he experienced a different comfort level. Instead of trying to adjust to the game’s tempo, he was helping to set it.
“I feel like right off the bat, I’m on the same page as everybody,” Johnson said. “I don’t have to come into the game and try to find out what page they’re on.”
The sophomore will get another chance to start Saturday, as KU coach Bill Self confirmed Thursday that Johnson would be in the starting lineup against Oklahoma.
Though Johnson had 15 points, three assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes against OSU, Self said that he was most pleased with the guard’s defensive effort against guard Keiton Page, who finished just 2-for-11 from the floor with eight points.
After watching the tape, Self said Johnson had only two defensive mistakes the whole game against Page — an extremely low number.
“(Elijah) made shots because he wasn’t worried about making shots. He played well because he wasn’t worried about screwing up,” Self said. “He was worried about guarding Page and being solid defensively. If you worry about the right things, then good things happen in other areas.”
Johnson said defense would remain his top priority Saturday.
“I feel like if you focus on offense, you want it too bad, and you just might be giddy,” Johnson said. “The first two or three mistakes might just be a trend for the rest of the night. So I just try to focus on something that is kind of hard to mess up with. Defense is pretty much hard to mess up if you’re in-tune.”
In a strange way, Johnson said starting Monday’s game allowed him to be more relaxed and also less winded.
“Sometimes, when you come off the bench, you have it rationalized in your mind that you’re more tired than you think you are, just because when it’s time to go to that scorer’s table to check in, you’ve got the butterflies and everything,” Johnson said. “You go out there and you’re playing off the adrenaline, trying to keep up with the speed and trying to catch up.”
Though Monday was Johnson’s fourth career start, he said it had a different feel to it.
“If you ask me, this was my first start at Kansas,” Johnson said, “because it meant something, and coach actually needed me.”
The Las Vegas native said he’s done a bit of extra studying for the Oklahoma game, as he won’t have the luxury of watching the game from the bench for a few minutes before coming in.
One of the areas he’s working on is keeping his focus.
“I know when I concentrate, I tend to do stuff better,” Johnson said. “And that’s what the twins (teammates Marcus and Markieff Morris) have been on me a lot about lately: just concentrating, because everybody knows I can do it.”
Taylor still out
Self said Tyshawn Taylor would miss his second straight game on Saturday at Oklahoma (3 p.m., Noble Center). Taylor was suspended on Monday for violating team rules.
“I don’t think so. No,” Self said, asked if Taylor would play.
Asked how Taylor is holding up, Self said: “I haven’t asked him. We don’t talk about it because I don’t want him to handle it too great. He’s doing fine. He cares. He knows he screwed up. He knows that (suspension) is part of it. He has no reason to feel any other way than OK.”
Self jokes, reflects
A native of Edmond, Okla., who played at Oklahoma State, Self was asked if he was recruited by OU.
“No. They already had a slow white point guard,” Self joked. “No reason to have two on the roster. And I like Billy (Tubbs, former OU coach) a lot. I don’t think I fit Billy’s athletic pressing scheme.”