Photo by Nick Krug
Perhaps lost in the euphoria that accompanied last Saturday’s near-40-point beatdown of rival Missouri was Kansas coach Bill Self’s first significant step toward paring down his roster.
Sure, the eighth-ranked Jayhawks still played 11 scholarship players and two walk-ons in the 102-65 Border War blowout. But Self used just eight players in the first half, relying mostly on his starters to build a 22-point halftime lead.
Senior forward Mitch Lightfoot matched starting big man David McCormack in playing 10 first-half minutes. And the two Jalens — Jalen Wilson (8) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (3) — combined to play 11 minutes off the bench.
“Playing those eight guys in the first half I thought was best for our team because nobody was tired,” Self said.
Chalk that up to adrenaline and enjoyment. In the first game against Missouri since 2012, the KU starters made it clear that they were fired up and having fun, particularly junior guard Christian Braun and seniors Remy Martin and Ochai Agbaji. That trio played 53 of a possible 60 first-half minutes.
Because of the numbers on the scoreboard, KU’s starting five was barely needed in the second half. Missouri did not score its 50th point until the 5:02 mark of the second half. Kansas had 49 at halftime.
Despite the lopsided margin, Agbaji, Braun and Martin still played half of Saturday’s second half.
“I thought tonight was more how I’ll coach in league (games) than the first eight games were,” Self said after the victory when asked about the rotation. “I’ve been trying to get guys in the game, and that’s with the starters playing well. So tonight I just decided — we decided — if we’re playing well, don’t play guys just to try to get them in the game. Play guys that’s best for your team moving forward.”
The move to limit the minutes of KU’s bench players — particularly freshmen KJ Adams and Zach Clemence, along with sophomore transfer Joe Yesufu — was a long time coming. Self has openly talked for the past several weeks about how he would try to juggle the minutes with this deep and talented roster.
The plan all along was to use the early portion of the season to see which newcomers and reserves would create separation. Freshman guard Bobby Pettiford was one of the few who did, but a recent abdominal injury took him out of the lineup for at least the next couple of weeks.
Kansas basketball v. Missouri
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