After a victory earlier this season, Kansas coach Bill Self rolled his eyes when asked about the Jayhawks’ defense coming out of a timeout.
Some of his guys were in a zone, some in a man, and a three-pointer was the result.
So much for a gimmick defense.
But Self didn’t dispose of the idea of mixing his defense, and when Kansas needed to change the flow of its NCAA Tournament game against Purdue on Sunday, he didn’t hesitate to order a triangle-and-two.
“Coach asked us during a timeout should we go to it,” Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “I said, ‘I don’t see why not? It can’t be worse than what we were playing now.’ ”
He got that right.
The defense slowed Purdue guard Robbie Hummel late in the first half and contributed to a second-half shooting malaise by the Boilermakers that allowed the Jayhawks to rally for a 63-60 victory.
Next up is North Carolina State in Friday’s Midwest Regional semifinal in St. Louis, and if the game requires a defensive change of pace from Kansas, Self wouldn’t hesitate.
“It’s part of our package,” Self said.
The Jayhawks have played junk defense sparingly, seeing zone much more than they play it. But the Jayhawks used some triangle-and-two earlier this season against Kansas State and Baylor. It worked against the Wildcats, but the Bears poured in three pointers and KU quickly abandoned the ploy.
Is North Carolina State the type of opponent that might prompt Kansas into a strategy change?
Self sees the Wolfpack as more conventional than Purdue, which, by using the 6-8 Hummel around the perimeter, drew Robinson away from the basket. After 2½ minutes and down 8-0, including five points by Hummel, Self had to switch assignments. Moments later, when it was 11-2, center Jeff Withey left the game for a smaller, quicker Kevin Young.
And when Hummel started scoring on Young, Self yelled to him, “I thought you were ready!”
It didn’t matter who guarded Hummel, he was scoring — 22 in the first half and 26 for the game. But the triangle-and-two blanketed Hummel with constant attention, essentially allowed Kansas to keep the sharpshooter in check by two defenders.
North Carolina State is led by 6-8 C.J. Leslie, who averages 14.6 points and plays in the paint, alongside 6-8 Richard Howell, who averages 11 points and 9.1 rebounds.
“Their bigs are really athletic, and it’s much more of a traditional lineup,” Self said. “We can be who we are against them more than Purdue.”
The Boilermakers’ success — 54.5-percent shooting in the first half — harkened back to the Jayhawks’ matchup troubles with Missouri. In splitting the regular-season games, Kansas often had to play small to combat the Tigers’ four-guard lineup. That usually put Withey on the bench.
That also happened Sunday. Withey played only 15 minutes, six in the second half, when Kansas spent half of the possessions in the gimmick defense.
They Jayhawks didn’t need their top shot-blocker then. They will against North Carolina State.
But if the occasion calls for a switch, Taylor is confident Kansas will be ready.
“When we were out there everybody was communicating, we all knew where we were supposed to be,” Taylor said. “We don’t practice it all the time, and we don’t use it a lot. But we have to hang our hats on being a good defensive team.”