Rejuvenated Dedric Lawson will be crucial in KU’s push for another Big 12 title

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) drives to the bucket between West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) and West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (10) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

After spending much of the season’s first three months doing his best to carry the Kansas basketball team, things are finally beginning to settle down for Dedric Lawson.

Not only has the emergence of freshmen guards Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji meant the Jayhawks can actually win games without Lawson scoring 20-plus points and registering a double-double, KU’s leading scorer and rebounder will get some hard-earned time off in the days ahead.

During the last week of January, Kansas dropped back-to-back games at Kentucky and Texas, and Lawson spent much of both defeats getting bodied and pushed around by opposing bigs, who often doubled him inside and wore him down.

But the redshirt junior forward from Memphis, Tenn., who has spent more time on the perimeter in the five games since the loss at Texas, said he hasn’t felt as beat-up lately.

“I haven’t been as sore just after the game. I’ve been doing a lot of different things to take care of my body and things of that nature, like cold tub, hot tub, things like that,” Lawson said after contributing 14 points and 4 rebounds to KU’s 78-53 win over West Virginia on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. “Sometimes, we have a quick turnaround from Saturday, then to Monday. You don’t really have as much time to put your body into treatment.”

That won’t be the case this week. Lawson and the Jayhawks (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) get a full seven days between their WVU win and a crucial road matchup at Texas Tech, the team with which they’re currently tied for second in the Big 12 standings, a half-game behind first-place Kansas State (19-6, 9-3).

It seems KU’s longest break in the schedule since late December couldn’t have come at a better time. Then again, is there ever a bad time to have a week off?

“That’s a good question,” Lawson said. “It’s a good time because, hopefully, it gives Marcus (Garrett, injured ankle) time to come back. I’d say it’s definitely a good time for all of our pieces to get healthy and for us to go into Texas Tech all together as a team, and go in there and be able to compete with all of our guys.”

Even if Lawson doesn’t want to admit it, his head coach, Bill Self, said several times on Saturday that he thinks KU’s multiskilled, 6-foot-9 forward has looked tired. Lawson is averaging 33 minutes a game this year, and providing Kansas with 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds, plus 50.6-percent shooting. Between the effort he exerts and the amount of defensive attention he receives from KU’s opponents, it’s enough to overtax even a physically and mentally prepared athlete.

KU’s victory over WVU marked the team’s fifth game in 15 days. Lawson said he has felt more vigorous than may be expected because the team’s head trainer, Bill Cowgill, puts all of the Jayhawks in position to recover — “keeping guys fresh and keeping them not so banged up,” as Lawson put it.

Only five games remain now on the Jayhawks’ regular-season schedule, and running the table would qualify as an exceedingly tall task. But that’s the surest path to another Big 12 title for Kansas. And it’s far more feasible now than it looked a couple of weeks ago.

A rejuvenated Lawson, more capable of finishing inside, draining 3-pointers outside and cleaning the glass coming off a seven-day break, could carry KU to a fantastic finish to the season.

His load to bear won’t feel so heavy, either, now that he’s facing up instead of posting down low, and has Dotson and Agbaji co-starring with him in the Jayhawks’ late-season push.


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