Trent Johnson not surprised by play of KU freshman bigs

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) pulls an offensive rebound away from TCU forward Devonta Abron (23), forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10) and guard Michael Williams (2) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

He might have been in the minority, but TCU men’s basketball coach Trent Johnson hardly was surprised to see Kansas University freshmen Carlton Bragg Jr. and Cheick Diallo deliver impressive outings during KU’s 70-63 victory over Johnson’s Horned Frogs Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I saw that maybe two summers ago,” said Johnson, referencing watching the two McDonald’s All-Americans on the recruiting trail. “It isn’t hard to figure that out. They look the part and they play the part.”

On Saturday, the midpoint of an up-and-down season for both first-year players, Bragg and Diallo certainly did both, coming off the bench to spark Kansas (15-2 overall, 4-1 Big 12) on both ends of the floor while playing the most minutes either has played in weeks and, certainly, their most minutes together.

Bragg got out to the faster start, pouring in eight of his 10 points in the first half and earning the second-half start in place of Hunter Mickelson. Diallo, who played double-digit minutes (21) for the first time since Dec. 19 and fourth time all year, finished with nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks to help lead the Jayhawks to victory.

TCU guard Michael Williams said Diallo and Bragg made their biggest difference on the defensive end, where they kept TCU from getting comfortable close to the rim and helped clean up the defensive glass on an afternoon when Mickelson, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor combined to grab just three defensive boards in 18 combined minutes.

“They’re long. Really long,” said Williams, who led the Frogs with 13 points in 36 minutes. “They may have times where they are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing offensively, but their length is really a problem on defense. They can cause problems on the defensive end.”

Despite the depth of KU’s front court and the learning curve that comes with playing big-time college basketball, many have questioned how little Bragg and Diallo have been used during recent weeks. But Johnson is not one of them and the TCU coach was not afraid to divulge his future hopes for the two talented freshmen, as well as KU senior Perry Ellis, who finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks and four fouls in 25 minutes.

“They’re playing for the right guy,” Johnson said. “They’re great players when it’s all said and done. I hope they leave after this year. Perry should have been gone two years ago. He’s a polished pro.”

As for the Frogs themselves, they came away pleased with the way his team responded to getting embarrassed by Baylor earlier this week.

“Obviously, Kansas is one of the best teams in the conference,” Williams said. “And I was really happy with how we competed this game.”

Added Johnson: “They’re making big plays against a good team…. I’m not into moral victories, but there was a period or two there where they had a chance to run and get some separation and our guys fought back.”

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