LEXINGTON, Ky. — Yes, Kansas basketball is still tied atop the Big 12 standings.
And yes, Marcus Garrett is well aware of that.
That fact didn’t affect the sophomore guard’s somewhat surprising answer when, in the immediate aftermath of the Jayhawks’ 71-63 defeat Saturday at fellow blue-blood Kentucky, Garrett was asked about the importance of the team’s next contest, a 6 p.m. Tuesday battle at Texas.
“Very big. Another conference game,” Garrett said. “It’s a must-win.”
When those words left Garrett's mouth, one could almost envision the eye rolls from fans of the eight Big 12 teams not currently in first place. Not only has KU (16-4, 5-2) won a national record-breaking 14 straight regular-season conference championships, but its roster still boasts a preseason All-American, three freshmen who last year were McDonald's All-Americans, a sharp-shooting senior and, in Garrett, a defensive ace whose steals-per-game mark (1.8) ranks second in the league.
But to anyone scoffing after reading that quote, consider the following: KU is just 1-4 in true road contests this season, and in the upcoming game against the tumbling Longhorns (11-9, 3-4), Garrett will be looking for redemption following arguably his most ineffective game as a college player.
Garrett finished the defeat to the Wildcats with just four points and five rebounds in 32 minutes, going a grim 1 for 9 from the field while committing a team-high three turnovers. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder missed all six of his first-half shot attempts, a figure that included a humbling blocked layup that was rejected from the hand of 6-11, 244-pound forward Nick Richards.
“Our league has some length, but they don’t have length like Richards, at least since it seems like all the big guys in our league are getting hurt," KU coach Bill Self said. “Yeah, (Garrett) didn’t have his best game, but still, we’ve got to live with that. If we’re going to play Marcus, we’ve got to live with him trying to score over length from three or four feet. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
The forgettable evening dropped Garrett's shooting clips to 40.7 percent overall and 23.3 percent from 3-point range, though a 2-for-2 effort from the free-throw line did raise his mark at the stripe to 60.3 percent. Despite junior forward Dedric Lawson’s 20-point, 15-rebound performance, Self said in his postgame radio remarks that the Jayhawks’ “lack of size obviously was very apparent tonight, and also our lack of strength.”
“Dedric fought ’em hard. I mean, Dedric fought his butt off,” Self said. “But it was two-against-one on every possession.”
While Self didn't name names in that observation, it's easy to recall P.J. Washington and other Wildcat defenders backing off Garrett as soon as the guard caught the ball, daring the light-scoring sophomore to burn them for packing the paint.
The strategy worked. On a night where his teammates hit 9 of 21 tries from beyond the arc, Garrett misfired on both of his 3-point attempts.
On the other end, Saturday’s defensive assignment may have been doomed from the outset for the undersized Garrett, pressed into the starting lineup at the four-spot following the season-ending injury to junior center Udoka Azubuike. Tasked with trying to help slow a pair of 6-9 physical freaks in Washington and Reid Travis, Garrett could only watch as both dominated the paint — the duo combined for 38 points and 25 rebounds en route to a pair of double-doubles.
“We’ve got to do some things better, but we’re just so limited right now from a size standpoint,” Self said. “When we face guys that have two true bigs and one of the true bigs is a guard, from a skillset standpoint, that makes it awfully tough to deal with.”
Kentucky’s length posed problems for everyone, and Garrett acknowledged he was no different. Still, he believed in himself entering the daunting assignment.
“You could say it’s tough guarding real posts, real bigs, and the way they were subbing,” Garrett said. “It was tough, but I thought I could handle it.”
Garrett will look to shake the setback against the Longhorns, a squad he scored 20 points against on 8-for-11 shooting in an 80-78 victory on Jan. 14 at Allen Fieldhouse. That outcome kick-started a three-game stretch where Garrett averaged 17 points on 62.9-percent shooting, leading to the thought that perhaps the stout defender had turned a corner on the offensive end.
With Texas boasting athleticism, size and length — sort of a store-brand version of Kentucky, if you will — Tuesday’s tilt could be a chance at a do-over for Garrett. And while the must-win label likely falls more on the side of the Longhorns, who have dropped five of their last six contests, expect Garrett at the bare minimum to play for pride.
“It’s fine. We know it’s a tough loss, but it’s not the Big 12,” Garrett said following Saturday’s defeat. “We know we’ve got to bounce back on Tuesday.”
NO. 11 KANSAS AT TEXAS
Tipoff: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Line: KU by 1
TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Next: KU vs. No. 16 Texas Tech, 3 p.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
NO. 11 KANSAS (16-4, 5-2 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F Dedric Lawson ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 19.5 ... 11.1
G Marcus Garrett ... 6-5 ... So. ... 7.5 ... 3.5
G Lagerald Vick ... 6-5 ... Sr. ... 14.8 ... 4.0
G Quentin Grimes ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 8.5 ... 2.4
G Devon Dotson ... 6-2 ... Fr. ... 10.8 ... 3.4
TEXAS (11-9, 3-4 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F Jaxson Hayes ... 6-11 ... Fr. ... 10.3 ... 5.2
F Dylan Osetkowski ... 6-9 ... Sr. ... 10.1 ... 8.3
G Kerwin Roach ... 6-4 ... Sr. ... 14.2 ... 3.5*
G Courtney Ramey ... 6-3 ... Fr. ... 5.7 ... 3.1*
G Matt Coleman ... 6-2 ... So. ... 10.3 ... 3.5*
* — Assists