Jayhawks’ 3-point defense improving as season progresses

photo by: Associated Press

Oklahoma State guard Chris Harris Jr., right, takes a shot over Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Kansas defeated Oklahoma State 65-50. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

After the Kansas basketball team yet again went on the road and held an opponent to a scoring total in the 50s, Marcus Garrett didn’t mind calling the Jayhawks’ defensive effort “great.”

The Cowboys’ 50 points marked the fewest by an opponent in a KU road game since the Jayhawks held Texas Tech to 46, in January 2013. OSU shot just 28.1% from the floor and 11.1% on 3-pointers.

“We know they have some great 3-point shooters over there, and that was the key coming in, to try and limit their 3s,” Garrett said. “I know we’re known for giving up a lot of 3-point shots. So we were big on that, knowing how well they shoot 3s. We were trying not to give them any good looks.”

Strong as the Jayhawks’ defense has been this year, it wasn’t that long ago that the way they guarded the 3-point arc raised some eyebrows. But they are shoring that up, too, of late, making it even more difficult for opponents to score.

While Oklahoma State as a team hasn’t been that dangerous from 3-point range this season, the Jayhawks limited the Cowboys to a 2-for-18 night and rarely allowed OSU’s best marksmen, Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters III, good looks at the rim from outside. Those two combined to go 0-for-5 from deep.

KU coach Bill Self said Thursday during his weekly press conference that he has noticed the Jayhawks (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12) improving their defense of the arc over the course of the past few weeks.

And Self isn’t basing that opinion off shooting percentages. As he pointed out, the Big 12 hasn’t been a good 3-point shooting league. Besides, he said, statistics can be misleading.

“You can play really good defense and they take a guarded shot and make it, or you can play crap defense and they can take an uncontested shot and miss it,” Self said. “And the stats don’t really show that.”

When Self says he’s noticed his players doing a better job of defending against shooters, he’s talking more about the Jayhawks following their scouting reports and executing strategically.

“The one thing I would say that we’ve done a better job of is we’ve run more people off the line,” Self said.

Limiting their opponents’ quantity and quality of 3-pointers is taking an already impressive KU defense to another level.

“I believe, since conference play started,” Self said, “there hasn’t been near as many attempts, as what there was prior to that.”

He’s right, of course. During nonconference action, KU opponents hoisted 28.5 3-point attempts a game, and averaged 8.3 makes. Since league play began for the Jayhawks, their foes (including Tennessee in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge) have attempted 20.6 3-pointers on average and made 6.1 a game.

The Jayhawks’ opponents hit 29.2% of their 3-pointers in their first 12 games, in November and December. In the eight games since Big 12 play began on Jan. 4, KU opponents have hit 29.7% from downtown.

In a game KU led by as many as 27 points in the second half, the Cowboys only attempted six 3-pointers in the game’s final 20 minutes.

“I think we picked it up after halftime,” freshman Tristan Enaruna said of KU’s defense. “Coach talked to us in the locker room and reminded us of everything, reminded us about their guys and what they do a lot. I think we did a good job being sharp with that and implementing those things.”


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