KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s a slight paradox to this Kansas basketball squad, and it appears to have Bill Self a bit miffed.
“We’re leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage and we have to be the most inconsistent 3-point field goal percentage team around,” Self said Saturday, shortly after the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks’ 98-57 victory over Kansas City (formerly UMKC) at Sprint Center. “And so we’ve got to get more consistent in that area.”
Self has a point.
KU (9-1) sits atop the Big 12 in 3-point field goal percentage, having hit 75 of 201 attempts this season for a 37.3% clip. That mark outpaces the conference’s second-best 3-point shooting team, Baylor, by 1.4 percentage points and is good for the nation’s 59th-best mark from outside.
Still, as Self indicated, the inconsistency in this area is glaring.
In the six games where the Jayhawks have shot better from 3 than their season average, the team has converted 58 of 135 long-range tries for a 43% success rate. But in the four games where KU has failed to hit 37.3% of its 3s, the drop off has been drastic — the team made just 17 of 66 attempts from 3 in those contests, a 25.8% mark.
Consider this: In a four-game period from Nov. 15 to Nov. 26, the Jayhawks finished with successive 3-point field goal percentages of 46.7%, 7.1%, 41.4% and 22.2%. KU hit 14 of 30 tries against Monmouth in the first game of that stretch, then followed that with a 1-for-14 showing against East Tennessee State.
“You’ve got to be able to stretch the defense in order for this team to be as good as we can be,” Self said. “Of course, we’re so inconsistent.”
Saturday’s game captured that well.
The Jayhawks hit only 2 of 9 tries from 3 in the opening period but followed with a 6-for-14 effort in the second half. Junior guard Marcus Garrett, a career 25% shooter from beyond the arc, hit all three of his 3s in the victory. Isaiah Moss, a 44.4% shooter from 3 across his four-year collegiate career, went just 1 of 5.
Moss' 42.1% conversion rate on 3s this season is tops among Jayhawks with at least 10 attempts, followed by Ochai Agbaji (41.2%), Garrett (38.9%), Devon Dotson (31.8%), Christian Braun (31.3%) and Tristan Enaruna (26.3%).
Despite the inconsistency, Self said he isn’t discouraged by what he’s seen from 3-point range to date.
“Guys seem to be aggressive. I don’t think I have to tell Tristan to shoot it very often,” said Self, referring to the freshman guard/forward who finished 1-for-10 shooting and 0-for-4 from 3-point range Saturday. “But guys seem to be aggressive, and in order for us to max out we’ve got to be able to stretch it.”
Led by senior center Udoka Azubuike’s nation-leading field goal percentage of 83.1%, the Jayhawks are shooting 60.3% on their 2s, the third-highest rate in college basketball. Still, Self indicated his group risks hindering that tremendous advantage if it is unable to get its 3-point shooting in order.
“You can’t shoot 65% every game from the 2,” Self said. “You’re going to have to complement that with making some long-range shots.”
Mixed bag for KU bench
The KU bench was outscored for a fourth straight contest, with the Roos holding a 29-25 advantage among points from reserves.
There were some signs of progress, however, with forward Silvio De Sousa scoring 9 points with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, all of those numbers coming in 14 second-half minutes.
“I didn’t think the bench by any stretch was terrific, but I didn’t think we were poor either,” Self said. “I never base if you play good or not on if you make shots, but certainly when your role is to be a shooter like Christian and Isaiah is, we need to knock down a better percentage.”
Braun finished 0-for-2 from 3-point range but contributed 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 20 minutes. Self, who has described the freshman guard as the team’s best extra-possession-getter in September and October practices, said he saw those abilities in a game for the “first time in a while.”
“I screwed Christian up because we always play (to) send three (for the rebound), get two back (on defense),” Self said. “And so when he’s in there with the second group, he’s usually the second guy to get back. ... Tonight we told him to try to go every time to create as many possessions as we can. He was better at that.”
As for De Sousa, the 20 minutes represented his second-longest appearance across what’s been a rough start to his junior season.
“I thought he was better,” Self said. “Maybe that will kind of help jump-start him.”