Reputation as lock-down defender growing by the day for Kansas sophomore Marcus Garrett

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) falls over Villanova forward Eric Paschall (4) after knocking away the ball during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The last time Kansas and Villanova met before Saturday, back in March at the Final Four in San Antonio, the Jayhawks had plenty of Villanova players to focus on.

In the rematch, a 74-71 dog-fight victory by top-ranked Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, there was one Villanova player who stood out above all others.

And Bill Self put his best defender on him.

Despite giving up three inches and roughly 50 pounds to Villanova senior Eric Paschall, KU sophomore Marcus Garrett did what Self said was “a fabulous job on Paschall” on the defensive end.

Foul trouble limited Paschall to 33 minutes — his season average — during a game in which he might otherwise have played all 40. And he played just 14 minutes in the decisive second half, attempting three shots and failing to grab a single rebound.

“After Paschall got going (early), I thought (Garrett) was terrific on him,” Self said after the victory.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore’s success against one of the nation’s toughest covers was largely the result of a week’s worth of work.

Throughout the days between KU’s win over New Mexico State at Sprint Center on Dec. 8 and Saturday’s win over Villanova — KU’s third Top 25 victory already this season — Garrett studied Paschall’s game on film, from all angles and all seasons.

“I just tried to stay attached to him,” Garrett noted. “During the film, I saw that, when you fell for his jab, he was going to just jump over and shoot. So I just tried to stay as close as possible so he couldn’t rise and shoot.”

Wherever Paschall went, Garrett was not far from him. During one possession in the second half, when KU freshman Devon Dotson found himself caught on Paschall after a switch, Garrett recognized it, worked his way over to Dotson and quickly passed off his man to Dotson so he could get back on Paschall, all within the flow of Villanova’s possession.

It’s plays like those, along with his ability to force Paschall into 4-of-10 shooting while recording four steals and a block, that had his teammates highlighting Garrett’s key contributions after a victory that featured a 29-point outburst from senior Lagerald Vick and yet another double-double (28 points, 12 rebounds) from KU junior Dedric Lawson.

“He was great defensively,” Lawson said of Garrett’s day. “When we look at the stat sheet, we see he had one point, but he does so much for this team and he’s so valuable that it really doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Like Lawson, Self marveled at Garrett’s four steals after the victory, saying, “Everybody will talk about those three (Dotson, Lawson and Vick), but we (also) have Marcus Garrett. The way our guys competed defensively all day was tremendous.”

Asked how he was able to pluck so many steals from a team known for taking care of the ball, Garrett briefly explained his thought process on defense.

“It’s just like watching film,” he began. “When I see the ball in front of (my man), I basically just try to reach. Most of the time, when the offensive player catches the ball, they’re not really holding it tight, they’re trying to run a play. So I just try to get my hand in there.”

For a team with so many options on offense and so many potentially different looks with the lineup, Garrett has quickly become one of the Jayhawks’ most important players.

Inserted into the starting lineup because of the ankle injury to starting center Udoka Azubuike, Garrett’s ability to play four positions and be this team’s lock-down defender has endeared him to his head coach, who places extreme value on versatility and toughness.

“He’s a good player,” Self said of Garrett. “If he had a consistent (shooting) stroke, he would be our best player; I mean, all-around player. He can play and he’s got fast hands and he’s tough and does all the right things.”

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