Landen Lucas has made Perry Ellis complete. They were like lovebirds Thursday night, chirping lovingly while helping Kansas handle Maryland 79-63 in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Ellis had 27 points and five rebounds. Lucas had 14 points and 11 rebounds. And they now form one of the most lethal frontine duos left in the tournament.
Lucas, of course, didn’t really enter the picture until Jan. 23, when he started his first game. At the time, you’ll remember, KU fans were wailing for Bill Self to give freshmen Carlton Bragg or Cheick Diallo and Self kept telling them the kids weren’t ready.
He didn’t know exactly who was ready, but he knew it wasn’t one of them.
Finally, Lucas got his chance. And since that fateful night, Kansas has won 17 of 18 games, become a Big 12 regular-season champion for the 12th consecutive season, captured the Big 12 Tournament, been designated as the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and looked every bit the part in three tourney wins so far.
Moving Lucas into the starting lineup has freed up Ellis to be more of what he is, and that’s a marvelous and versatile scorer whose footwork, shooting skill and ability to use his right or left hand gives him an arsenal that’s become impossible to defuse.
“It’s helped so much,” Ellis said. “(Lucas) is such a smart player and he knows his position and he just does a great job and makes so many different plays.”
It’s not like Ellis was a wallflower before Lucas became a starter, but the move has not only filled a noticeable hole at the center position but helped Ellis find his groove.
He’s averaging 18.9 points with Lucas by his side as opposed to 15.4 when Self was trying to find other options.
Ellis is shooting 57.6 percent from the floor since Lucas came aboard as a starter to 49 percent before.
You think Self might be a pretty good coach? The move to Lucas has ignited something that might steam through Houston next weekend. The Jayhawks look unstoppable. But so did Villanova, which put Miami away easily and will be KU’s opponent Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
“Landon makes it easy for Perry to play because he understands Perry’s game and Landon’s strengths allow Perry to play to his strengths as well,” Self said.
Ellis agreed that the switch to Lucas as a starter has given him a boost. It’s created more room in which he operates and allowed him to get away from the basket more and show off his offensive diversity.
With Lucas chasing down 8.3 rebounds as a starter, he’s taking care of some of the dirty work that was falling into Ellis’ hands. And, by the way, Lucas loves getting dirty. He knows what he is and if he has to stick his nose into a scrum, he’s more than willing to do so.
There’s even an extra bonus with this teaming of Ellis and Lucas; Lucas is starting to figure out how to score. Nothing fancy -- mostly put backs, follows and lob passes – but Lucas is averaging 12 points in three tournament games on 14-of-18 shooting.
“I’ll take it,” Lucas said, “but it’s really a credit to my teammates. They give me the ball in good position and that’s the way I score is off those guys. So I still focus on the defense and rebounding but if they’re getting me the ball close to the hoop like that and I can finish, then I’m definitely happy with that, too.”
There has been one sacrifice – Ellis isn’t getting as many rebounds. He was leading KU with 6.8 but that number has dropped to 5.0 with Lucas by his side.
“I think we’ll still start (Ellis) Saturday,” Self said. “Landon is getting some of the rebounds that Perry used to get. I still think Perry can rebound better and his rebounding numbers haven’t been great, but if you look at our team numbers, they’re much better than Landon has been starting.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon watched his team get out-rebounded 43-28 and the Terps’ three frontcourt starters combined to make 8 of 21 shots.
Ellis and Lucas, meanwhile, were 16 of 24.
“Perry is playing with a lot of confidence,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t think he forced things tonight.
“(Self) has done a nice job of getting to where Perry can make plays. He made a lot of them. Then he got his jump shot going a little bit in the second half, too. It’s a hard guard because he can shoot the three, he can do mid-range and he can get all the way to the glass and post up. I’ve followed his career and I know there’s been some ups and downs, but it’s great that he’s finishing his career the way he’s finishing.”
The downs haven’t been all that pronounced. Ellis is within six points of 1,800 for his career. There’s just been a bad perception because of all the talk early on that Ellis wasn’t tough enough, or vocal enough, or demonstrative enough.
He’s enough of all the enoughs now. Ellis is a true star, made complete by a running mate who always has his back.
Villanova vs. Kansas
- When: About 7:50 p.m. Saturday
- Where: KFC Yum Center, Louisville, Ky.
- Records: Villanova 32-5, KU 33-4
- Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM
- TV: KWCH