Jayhawks bombard Longhorns with 3-pointers to win Big 12 opener

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) puts up a three over Texas guard Matt Coleman (2) during the first half on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

As Kansas opened Big 12 play Friday night at Frank Erwin Center, it didn’t take long for Texas freshman Mohamed Bamba to establish himself as a force inside defensively, what with his 7-foot-9 wingspan and active hands and feet.

So the No. 11 Jayhawks used one of their greatest strengths, their 3-point shooting, to avoid the dangerous Bamba and win, 92-86, in Austin, Texas.

KU improved to 11-2 on the year by finding open looks on the perimeter and scoring on 17 of its 35 outside shots.

Though KU entered the game ranked third nationally in assists (20.0 per game), the Jayhawks’ offense wasn’t as fluid as usual in the first half. The road team made just three assists on 14 field goals in the first 20 minutes.

That aspect improved dramatically down the stretch, though, as KU’s guards and wings discovered confidence in their shooting and the Jayhawks assisted on 12 of their 17 second-half field goals at UT (9-4).?

Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:

• The game turned when: The Jayhawks started connecting on shots from spots on the floor where Bamba couldn’t thwart them.

The visitors weren’t bad by any means from behind the 3-point arc in the first half, converting six of 15 (40 percent). But the Jayhawks took it to another level early in the second half, going 6-for-9 from deep in the opening six-plus minutes.

Senior Svi Mykhailiuk spearheaded the shooting display, catching fire just after intermission. Mykhailiuk (20 points, 5-for-10 on 3-pointers) drained three from downtown in a span of less than three minutes.

Junior Lagerald Vick (21 points, 5-for-8 from deep) buried two 3-pointers of his own less than five minutes into the second half, and Devonte’ Graham (23 points, 6-for-12 outside) made his fifth of the game to extend KU’s advantage to 13 with 13:35 to play.

The Jayhawks drilled 11 of 20 3-pointers in the final half and made 49 percent overall.

• Offensive highlight: Graham’s 3-point shooting in the first half (4-for-8) allowed KU to head into halftime with a 37-34 lead.

The four the senior knocked down before intermission not only looked smooth coming off his right hand, but they also came at pivotal junctures.

UT took an early lead in the opening minutes when Graham first struck.

An onslaught of point-blank Bamba buckets gave Texas an 11-9 advantage before Graham sent another 3-pointer through the net.

The game was tied at 25 before KU’s senior leader retook the lead for the Jayhawks yet again with his third successful long-range bomb.

Then, with 1:00 left until the half, and the game tied for the sixth time, Graham used a Lightfoot screen at the top of the key to get the window he needed to hit trifecta No. 4.

• Defensive highlight: This space typically is reserved for Jayhawks, but 6-11 freshman big Bamba was too dominant to be overlooked.

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native swatted five KU shots in the first half alone and finished with eight blocks, limiting the Jayhawks’ offensive impact around the rim and no doubt altering many other shots and/or would-be drives with his presence alone.

• Key stat: Points in the paint. A category KU typically wins, the presence of Bamba — on both ends — made doing so in Austin particularly challenging in the league opener.

With Bamba scoring 12 of his 16 first-half points at the rim, the Longhorns outscored Kansas 22-14 inside in the first half. By the end of the night, the Longhorns became just the second team this season (Arizona State was the first) to produce more points in the paint than the Jayhawks, winning that game within the game, 42-26, behind Bamba’s 22-point, 15-rebound show.

• Up next: The Jayhawks will return to Allen Fieldhouse for their first home game in 15 days, when KU plays host to Texas Tech on Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN).

The No. 22 Red Raiders opened league play Friday night with a 77-53 home win over No. 18 Baylor.

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