Going off script isn’t necessarily a bad thing for maturing Jayhawks

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) tries to steal the ball from Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

It’s common, in football, for head coaches and offensive coordinators to script the first 15 offensive plays of a game and has been for years.

The strategy not only brings a sense of calm and cohesion to the game plan and opening drive but also allows the offense something extra to really focus in on during its practices leading up to game day.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is willing to do the same thing — or at least something similar — in developing his scouting reports and game plans for any given Kansas basketball game, but that does not always mean Self and the Jayhawks stick to the script.

Take Monday’s 80-78 victory over Texas as an example.

Back at home after their first true road win of the season, the 7th-ranked Jayhawk jumped out to an 8-0 lead on three jumpers that lit Allen Fieldhouse on fire and forced UT coach Shaka Smart to take an early timeout.

The fast start was the second in a row of its kind for the Jayhawks, who opened last weekend’s game at Baylor on an 18-2 tear. And Kansas added another fast start by blitzing Texas with a 19-7 run to open the second half, turning a halftime deficit into a 10-point lead.

Thrilled by the start to both halves — Self said he liked the second-half start better “because we needed something good to happen early in the second half” — Self explained after the game that there was no magic formula to either of them simply because of the way Texas plays, forcing teams to play up-tempo and go off script instead of settling into half-court sets.

“The way (Texas) played, they didn’t allow us to run one set play,” Self said after the game. “They pressed into man (defense) and we’re not going to back it out with 18 (seconds) on the (shot) clock to run a play. And there were so many transitional type things and we don’t back it out after transition to run a play. So, it wasn’t like it was scripted at all, like we normally do. The guys just had to go make plays.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

A transition 3-pointer from the wing by Quentin Grimes off an assist from Lagerald Vick got things going. Vick followed that up with an unassisted 3-pointer of his own near the top of the key. And one possession later, Dedric Lawson walked into a 15-foot jumper that set the margin at 8-0 1:43 into the game.

Nothing was run, no sets were called and the Jayhawks had not even looked to the bench to get instructions from Self or his staff.

That changed as the game went on, of course. And that guidance from the bench became incredibly important as Texas stormed back and wound up making it a one-possession victory for Kansas.

But that early, free-flowing style of play proved something about this Kansas team. Despite playing with two freshmen, a sophomore and a first-year Jayhawk, this group has the ability — and, more importantly, the maturity — to get good looks and make things happen even when things don’t go according to plan.

Credit the guards and their play-making ability for a lot of that. But credit their preparation in practice for it, as well.

KU sophomore Marcus Garrett, who scored a career-high 20 points in the win over UT, including 13 in a row for Kansas after a pair of Devon Dotson free throws gave KU a 10-5 lead, briefly explained why his team has benefited from those fast starts the past couple of games.

“Moving the ball, driving downhill and getting Dedric touches,” Garrett explained.

So why can’t Kansas sustain those and run away from someone like so many KU teams did in the past?

Well, part of it is the talent of the opponent. Self said after Monday’s victory that the Big 12, this year, is not made up of teams that are going to roll over when the score gets out of hand. There are too many good defensive teams and too many good coaches to allow that to happen.

The other part of it is the mindset of the Jayhawks and Garrett touched on that again Monday, just as a couple of his teammates have done in the not-too-distant past.

“We just have to keep fighting,” Garrett said. “Once we go up, I feel like we get to a point where we feel like the game is over, we’ve won, and I just feel like we have to keep on fighting and doing what we did to (get) up.”

Added Self, not interested in putting too much stock, good or bad, in what happens in the first two or three minutes of any game: “The thing about it is, it’s great to start fast and there’ve been many games where we haven’t started fast, but it’s so early. We were up 8-0 because we made three hard shots. It wasn’t like we were playing unbelievable. And they missed probably the same shots that we made. … I’d like to say that we can script getting off to a better start, but that was not the case (Monday night).”


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