KU’s KJ Adams provides counter to Missouri’s defensive approach inside

Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) chest bumps Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) after a bucket and a foul during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas Jayhawks might have secured a 73-64 rivalry win over the Missouri Tigers, but don’t be surprised if opposing teams spend a little extra time watching the first half when preparing for Bill Self’s squad.

It’s not because Missouri led for the first 14 minutes of the game, either, something Tigers head coach Dennis Gates boasted about in his postgame press conference. No, teams will want to know what Missouri did to contain Kansas big man Hunter Dickinson during the opening stretch of Saturday’s matchup in Allen Fieldhouse.

Dickinson, who is considered the biggest threat to Purdue big man Zach Edey for the National Player of the Year award, was held to just two points in the first half. He attempted just two shots, making his lone basket nearly 13 minutes into the game. Dickinson ultimately finished with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go along with 16 rebounds in 35 minutes.

“You just force a team to do something different that they hadn’t done as much,” Gates said. “That was part of our game plan to try and figure out (how to) make sure they could do something different.”

The defensive game plan mostly involved sagging off certain Kansas players, including both freshman guard Elmarko Jackson and junior forward KJ Adams Jr. This allowed more defenders to be in the lane, making it difficult for Dickinson to get open.

“As long as teams play that way, Hunter is going to be neutralized,” Self said. “There is nothing that we can do that will help him out unless you can spread it.”

A good example of this occurred before Adams’ first basket of the game. With Jackson driving through the lane, Adams stood alone in the corner. His defender remained in the lane to provide help defense on the drive and to be available for post help on Dickinson. Adams caught the ball and then beat his man to the block, before absorbing contact while making the tough layup.

On Dickinson’s first points of the game, Adams was by himself on the right wing. His defender never left the lane, even when he was one pass away. Adams drove hard toward the rim, forcing the defense to step up, and then dished it to Dickinson for a jumper at the free-throw line.

“They were kind of daring him to shoot and he made them pay in the first half,” Dickinson said. “If teams aren’t going to guard one of our best players, that’s up to them.”

Adams scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, going 5-for-9 from the floor during the opening stretch. He hit back-to-back floaters in the lane at one point before a defender could step up to guard him. Adams led the team in made baskets and was second on the team in attempts during a first half in which the Jayhawks went 15-for-33.

More importantly, his play was pivotal during a decisive 14-0 run to end the first half. He made the most of Missouri’s defensive game plan during that stretch, playing a part in nearly every basket over that run.

After Jackson’s four-point play that started the 14-0 stretch, Adams set up a 3-pointer from Kevin McCullar Jr. moments later. He caught the ball in the short corner, and quickly dished it back to McCullar while getting in the way of his defender. With one defender in the area to guard two players, McCullar made an open triple in front of the Mizzou bench.

Adams set multiple screens on KU’s next field goal, and his roll to the basket helped give Dajuan Harris Jr. all the room he needed to convert on a floater. Harris called for a screen from Adams late in the shot clock on the next possession, and hit him on the short roll. Adams then dropped the floater from the Big 12 logo in the lane before his defender could get to him.

“We got to learn how to attack that (defense) better, but I actually thought (KJ) did some good things,” Self said. “He’s getting better every game.”

Thanks to Adams’ play to close out the first half, Missouri ditched its strategy and Dickinson was able to get things going a bit more in the second half. He finished with his sixth double-double of the season.

While teams will likely try to employ a similar defensive game plan in the coming weeks, it might not always be up to Adams to provide the counter-punch. Reserves like Johnny Furphy and Nicolas Timberlake can help stretch a defense out with their ability to shoot the 3-ball, for example.

But Saturday’s performance fell on Adams’ sturdy shoulders. He took advantage of Missouri’s defensive approach, and continued his remarkable run for the Jayhawks. Adams has scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging 15.2 points per contest over that span.

Adams might never threaten teams with his jumper, but he’s certainly making it more difficult for opponents to just ignore him.

“It’s to be expected. A lot of people are going to do that,” Adams said. “I guess I just have to start hitting those shots until they guard me.”

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) is pressured by Missouri forwards Jordan Butler, back left, Jesus Carralero Martin (13) and guard Anthony Robinson II (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Lawrence. Kansas won 73-64.

Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) elevates for a shot over Missouri guard Curt Lewis (4) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) chest bumps Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) after a bucket and a foul during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug


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