Jayhawk Dispatch

The KU chalkboard: How Cliff Alexander beat Oklahoma on the offensive glass

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander shoots against Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler, right, and forward TaShawn Thomas during the first half on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas forward Cliff Alexander shoots against Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler, right, and forward TaShawn Thomas during the first half on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The Wichita Eagle

Before we get to the regularly scheduled edition of The Chalkboard, let’s pause to appreciate the word of the week at Kansas:

Motor (noun): 1. One that imparts motion.

That’s one definition at least. The Jayhawks, you see, have been on a real motor-themed kick lately. You have probably heard Bill Self use this word in a sentence — as in, “Cliff Alexander needs to play with a more consistent motor.” You have probably heard broadcasters say the same thing. You have probable read about this, too. For Self, all this talk of motors means many things. Alexander needs to be more aggressive on defense, for example, more active on the glass, more kinetic on the floor.

On Saturday night at Iowa State, Alexander’s motor was not imparting enough motion. Self limited the freshman big man to just two minutes in the second half, and after the Jayhawks left Ames with an 86-81 loss, the story of Alexander’s benching became one of the game’s main story lines.

Two days later, Alexander finished with 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in 23 minutes as No. 11 Kansas survived No. 20 Oklahoma 85-78 on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. Once again, Alexander’s motor was a main cause of intrigue, but for different reasons.

“It’s definitely an energy thing, that’s all,” Alexander said, sitting in the Allen Fieldhouse media room after the game. “The stats — that’s not really nothing. It’s just an energy thing. Me and (Coach) both think that I need to play with a high motor. I agree with him.”

There is no perfect way to quantify a “motor” — for Self, so much of it stems from the defensive end — but one stat popped from the box score on Monday: Alexander finished with a career-high seven offensive rebounds, more than half of Kansas’ 13 offensive boards as a team.

In order to understand Alexander’s proclivity for collecting offensive rebounds, The Chalkboard re-watched Monday’s game and charted Alexander’s seven offensive rebounds. Some were simply the result of a fortunate bounce or carom, and some showcased his long wingspan, but the fact Alexander finished with seven perhaps says something about his physical tools (his hands and strength) AND his ability to be in the right place.

Here are Alexander’s seven offensive rebounds, including two key offensive boards during the final minutes.

1. Late in the first half, Alexander whiffed on a screen in Kansas’ “two-game” offense, leading to a forced shot in traffic from Frank Mason. Alexander, though, was in the right place at the right time and snatched an offensive board and putback.

2. On this possession, Wayne Selden took a quick corner three, and Alexander pinned Oklahoma’s D.J. Bennett up against the block — with Big Cliff the beneficiary of another nice carom off the rim.

3. On the same possession, Selden attacked the basket and Alexander took advantage when nobody from Oklahoma put a body on him.

4. Here, Alexander kept another possession alive with an offensive rebound off a miss from Devonte’ Graham. Alexander gave the ball right back, though, with a turnover.

5. Alexander’s fifth offensive rebound came off an errant three-point attempt from Wayne Selden. The degree of difficulty wasn’t too high — the ball fell right to Alexander — but he did manage to pin Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler under the basket.

6. With more than four minutes left, and the game still hanging in the balance, Frank Mason drove and attempted to connect with Perry Ellis on a lob. The play turned into a mad scramble, and Alexander earned two free throws, converting both to tie the score at 69-69.

7. Alexander saved his best for last. Trailing 71-70 with more than three minutes left, Kelly Oubre missed the second of two free throws. Alexander cleaned up after the miss and the ball ended up in the hands of Brannen Greene, who put Kansas ahead for good with a clutch three.

By our quick count, Alexander’s seven offensive rebounds led directly to eight second-chance points, which, if you’re paying attention, came in a seven-point KU victory. For the season, Alexander has collected 13 percent of available offensive rebounds, which would be the best for a Kansas player since Kevin Young (13.2) in 2012-13.

Perhaps Kansas could have found a way to win Monday without Alexander imparting all this motion on the offensive glass, but in one very simple way, he proved to be the difference.

The moment of the game

Yes, it’s more Cliff Alexander. Kansas was clinging to a 75-74 lead with two minutes left. Frank Mason attacked the basket. Alexander was there for the finish.

The player of the game

We’ve spent plenty of words on Alexander, so perhaps a quick look at Kelly Oubre, who has quietly become a force on the boards in Big 12 play. Oubre is averaging 6.0 boards in 26.6 minutes per game, which ranks second on the team behind Perry Ellis (7.0). Oubre has been doing most of his glasswork on the defensive end, which has been key for a Kansas team that often finds itself with two smallish power forwards on the floor. Oubre’s defensive rebounding rate (20.9) ranks 133rd in the country. Perhaps it’s because Kansas’ big men don’t hog all the rebounds, but Oubre might be the best rebounding wing that Self has had since Brandon Rush.

The stat of the game

15: Frank Mason wasn’t at his best against Oklahoma; he finished with just 10 points and four assists on three-of-eight shooting. But he did manage to keep alive his streak of double-digit scoring performances. Mason has now been in double figures in 15 straight games, dating back to a victory over Rider on Nov. 24.