An offensive performance too often akin to an ugly Christmas sweater didn’t prevent Kansas basketball from earning its first true road victory of the season Sunday at Stanford.
The Jayhawks can hang their hat — or stocking, perhaps — on what was quite possibly their strongest defensive showing, the biggest factor in what turned into a breezy outcome.
KU held Stanford without a field goal conversion for the first 11-plus minutes of its eventual 72-56 victory over the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. The No. 5-ranked Jayhawks (10-2) scored the game’s first 11 points and forced the Cardinal into 15 consecutive missed shots from the opening tip, racing out to a 20-4 lead despite their own offensive ineffectiveness — KU committed 14 first-half turnovers.
"First season is over and I'm really glad we won this game,” KU coach Bill Self said in his postgame radio interview. “Stanford, they're ranked (11th) in the country or whatever in the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool). This'll be a good résumé win for us. But we've got to play a lot better offensively to be able to keep moving the needle forward."
The victory was a bounce-back result for the Jayhawks, who fell 56-55 at Villanova in its most recent contest in an outcome that snapped a nine-game winning streak and dropped KU from its perch as the nation’s top-ranked team.
Isaiah Moss scored 17 points with four made 3s off the bench to lead the way for KU, which got 14 points apiece from Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji and 12 points from Marcus Garrett to round out its double-figure scorers. A collective 6-for-8 mark from 3-point range and a 57.7% clip on all field goal attempts in the second half helped lift the team’s shooting mark to 46.6% for the game.
Stanford, which was paced by a 19-point outing by Oscar da Silva, finished the game with a 38% shooting clip and 19 turnovers.
"I thought we played to scouting report," Self said of his team's defensive showing. "I thought our switches were good. I thought for the most part we defended the arc and kept them out of the lane, which is kind of hard to do sometimes,” Self said. “I thought we guarded against Villanova too, but I thought we were turned up defensively (Sunday). There were a couple of times where we should've stolen the ball but didn't or the ball didn't bounce our way or we got a run out but it was a shot clock violation. I mean, we were really close to scoring off our defense better today. We just didn't do it."
In his halftime remarks, Self labeled his team's offensive performance “horrendous” but added its defense was “about as good” as its been all season. KU held a double-digit halftime lead.
“Both teams were so inept offensively that I'm sure it was a hard game for a lot of people to watch the first half,” Self later remarked. “But we did defend and rebound."
KU went 12-for-32 from the floor and 3-for-14 from 3-point range in the first period but held Stanford to a 5-for-23 clip from the floor and a 1-for-9 showing from beyond the arc while forcing 10 turnovers. The Cardinal (11-2) trimmed the 16-point deficit to six with just over two minutes before halftime, but Moss' 3 in the final seconds established a 28-18 lead for the visitors.
"I was really disappointed in how we played, though, the first half,” Self said. “I thought that was a game, we were up 10? We should've been up 20 at least at halftime, because they shot poorly and we defended and rebounded great. But you turn it over 14 times? I mean, unbelievable. Unforced turnovers. They never pressured.”
A Spencer Jones 3 cut the Stanford deficit to nine two minutes into the second half, but that's when Moss went off. The senior guard, former Iowa graduate transfer and 3-point specialist hit three straight treys to give KU a 42-24 lead with 15:39 remaining, and the advantage stayed at a double-figure margin the rest of the way.
KU starting center Udoka Azubuike finished with just two points but corralled 13 rebounds, helping the Jayhawks to a 44-25 advantage on the glass. Freshman guard Christian Braun scored nine points off three made 3s off the KU bench, which outscored Cardinal reserves 30-9.
KU returns to action with a Big 12 opener at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse against No. 22 West Virginia, which upset No. 2 Ohio State 67-59 on Sunday in Cleveland.
"We're getting ready to play a different animal on Saturday,” Self said. “I mean, if we thought this was non-artistic today, wait 'til you watch that one, because that'll be a fistfight every possession."