LAWRENCE — Iowa State’s offensive output early in Monday’s game may have felt familiar to Kansas basketball fans, with the Cyclones’ nine made 3s the most in a half by a Jayhawk opponent since Auburn in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
But the similarities between those two contests ends there.
ISU hit 9 of 12 attempts from 3-point range in the opening period but trailed by 10 at the intermission of an eventual 91-71 loss at Allen Fieldhouse. On the other side of the coin, Final Four-bound Auburn connected on 9 of 17 tries from beyond the arc on its way to a staggering 51-25 halftime lead and an 89-75 victory that ended the Jayhawks’ season.
So what was the difference this go-round? Start with the suddenly surging KU offense, which put together arguably its best showing of the season Monday.
KU shot 56.7% from the floor against ISU, its best clip since Feb. 14, 2018. Five Jayhawks reached double-figure scoring, with Devon Dotson's 29 points leading the balanced attack.
"It just shows the weapons we have out there, the firepower we have, the versatility," Dotson said. "We can play defense, we play offense, but when we combine them it can be special. So we’ve got to learn to do that."
KU is now shooting 48.8% from the floor, the best mark in the Big 12 and a top-10 percentage nationally. That pairs nicely with a defense that, at 83.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, sits atop advanced analytics outlet KenPom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.
Dotson accounted for six of his team’s 12 made 3s Monday, a performance that followed the Jayhawks’ 11-trey outburst in last Saturday’s 87-70 home victory over Oklahoma. Entering that contest, KU had connected on four or fewer 3s in eight of its previous 12 games.
While the Jayhawks held the Cyclones to a 2-for-11 shooting clip from 3 in the second half, Bill Self wasn’t interested in celebrating his team’s offensive progress without also noting its recent defensive lapses at home — after surrendering 60 points per game across its first three Big 12 tilts at Allen Fieldhouse, KU has given up an average of 68.5 points in its last four home conference clashes.
"I think sometimes that’s fool’s gold though. I don’t think that’s how this team will win consistently," said Self, responding to KU’s improved 3-point shooting. "I still think that the grimier it is the more we should like it, and we didn’t do anything to make it grimy the last two games, which isn’t all bad because we needed to see the ball go in the basket too.
"So hopefully it will be a good balance. Now we can hopefully get back to guarding a little bit and doing it with more of a confident offensive mindset."
Udoka Azubuike didn't have his most dominant outing Monday — 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in 24 minutes — but he did author at least one memorable moment.
With KU leading 61-48 and 15 minutes remaining, Azubuike had an opportunity to showcase his athleticism. Holding the ball at the top of the key, Azubuike drove into the paint, then put on a spin move that caused Iowa State counterpart Solomon Young to stumble back and away from the play.
From there, it was as simple as a soft-touch layup for the 7-footer.
"He looked like a young Joel Embiid out there," Dotson said. "He looked good doing that. Put him in a blender."
Azubuike finished the game 5-for-7 shooting with a game-high four offensive rebounds.
"Thought it was pretty good. Thought it was pretty good," Self said of Azubuike’ post move. "I thought everybody did some good things tonight. I thought Doke had his moments. He turned it over (six times). He was careless. But I thought that was pretty impressive, what he did, and certainly showed how athletic he is."
Garrett extends theft streak
Marcus Garrett notched three steals against the Cyclones, his fifth straight game reaching that number and ninth overall this season.
The junior guard and Jayhawk defensive ace also finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 34 minutes. Garrett had a career-high 24 points in Saturday's victory over OU.
"Making shots, all that stuff is important, but there’s usually one thing that’ll key something positive for us, and that’s usually Marcus Garrett defensively," Self said. "It seems like to me his plays defensively just automatically lead to momentum changes."