KU’s ball-screen offense led to much-needed win over Kentucky

Kansas' K.J. Adams Jr. (24) shoots next to Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. Kansas won 77-68. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kansas head coach Bill Self sat down for his postgame presser — with his jacket off after wearing a suit for the game — following a 77-68 win over Kentucky Saturday night at Rupp Area. And the first question directed at Self basically summed up what led to the Jayhawks ending their three-game skid.

Self was asked about KU’s pick-and-roll offense and how his team was able to control the glass against one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The former was a deliberate plan by the coach who has never lost four in a row at Kansas, but the latter? Not so much.

“I’ll be candid, we hoped to attack them on the pick-and-roll,” Self said. “We were just praying on the rebounding stuff.”

Either way, both strategies worked in KU’s favor on Saturday — and it was the story of the game. The Wildcats, who came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding, were held to an offensive rebound rate of 13.3% and had their four-game win streak snapped. It was their worst rebounding performance of the season, with their previous season low being 25.6% against Gonzaga.

But we are going to focus on the offensive side of the equation, as KU’s ball-screen offense was critical to a much-needed win for the defending national champs.

“I don’t know how many points we scored off ball screen, but it had to be close to 20 tonight,” Self said. “So that was really good for us.”

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Kansas ran a pick-and-roll 40 different times against Kentucky and averaged 0.875 points per possession on such plays. The roll man scored 13 points on the pick-and-roll, while the ball handler produced 12 points, according to Synergy’s charting.

The 13 points by the roll man matched KU’s best performance of the season, which was previously done against Seton Hall, and was the first double-digit showing since the team’s last win against Iowa State. The dozen points by the ball handler marked the most since a 19-point effort against Oklahoma.

“We work on that pretty much every day and that was the emphasis tonight,” Kevin McCullar Jr. said.

It was a priority because of Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe. The reigning National Player of the Year was supposed to have his way with a smaller Kansas front court, but instead struggled to match the quickness on the defensive end.

KJ Adams, who scored a total of eight points over the last two games, finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He made scoring look easy, thanks to all his layups and dunks after setting a screen and flashing toward the basket.