Let’s start with the most glaring, obviously bad part of Kansas freshman forward Carlton Bragg’s night.
He did not score a point in a 79-63 win over Maryland on Thursday in the South Regional semifinals. Not only did he not score a point, each time he tried to shoot in the first half, he had the ball rejected. Spiked. Blocked. Slammed into the court in front of 19,399 fans at the KFC Yum Center.
But let’s get to the other part of his night. That’s a little more important.
Bragg (6-foot-9) played 10 minutes in relief of star senior Perry Ellis and grabbed eight rebounds, including three offensive boards. Ellis needed the breaks — he scored 27 points in 27 minutes while helping lead the Jayhawks into the Elite Eight against Villanova on Saturday night. It’s Kansas’ first trip to the Elite Eight since 2012.
Bragg also helped the Kansas front line shut down Maryland’s post players, none of who scored in double digits and Kansas outrebounded the Terrapins 43-28.
“I think I just wasn’t aggressive enough coming through the lane in the first half,” Bragg said. “I honestly didn’t think I would get in the lane that easy.”
What Bragg didn’t do after the flurry of rejections was sulk or get his head down, heeding some advice Kansas coach Bill Self gave him before the NCAA Tournament started.
“(Self) always tells me to stay aggressive, he always says ‘Next play, next play,’ ” Bragg said. “Especially in the tournament, you don’t let one bad play become two. I just need to play my role out there, which is get in, be strong, and when Perry needs a blow I’m there for him.”
It’s that attitude that has endeared him to his teammates — they know that he can take advice (and criticism) and keep in mind what the team needs in the process.
“He knows he needs to be aggressive, be strong when he’s going to the basket,” Kansas senior forward Jamari Traylor said. “And he got us a lot of rebounds, so as far as that goes, hey, we won the game and at the end of the day I’m still proud of him and it’s on to the next one.
“A lot of teams don’t have a guy like that, that’s that size and can come off the bench, knock down shots and make the defenses be honest and the spread the floor. And as far as being on the bench, he’s great for team chemistry with his attitude. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be out there.”
Bragg didn’t attempt a shot in the second half — he finished 0-for-4 with all four shots blocked — but it was like water off a duck’s back for the Cleveland, Ohio, native in the Kansas locker room after the game.
“All the time, yes, I will stay positive,” said Bragg, who averages 4 points and 2.4 rebounds. “And I will cherish these moments. To go the Elite Eight in my first time ever in the tournament is special. I know I need to be more confident, to stop hesitating, but I’m also going to enjoy this.”