Bill Self doesn’t want to play small. Here’s what he’s looking for from KU’s big men

Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com

Kansas coach Bill Self says he’s not totally committed to playing four or five guards the majority of the time during upcoming Jayhawk men’s basketball games.

“I don’t want to play small. I want one of those young freshmen to come through so we don’t have to play small. Hopefully they will,” Self said Friday night after the Jayhawks’ 64-50 loss to Tennessee in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

KJ Adams, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound sophomore, and Jalen Wilson, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound junior, made up KU’s starting frontcourt in all three games in the Bahamas. They played next to starting guards Dajuan Harris, Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar.

Freshmen bigs Ernest Udeh (16 minutes in three games) and Zuby Ejiofor (seven) were used sparingly off the bench in the tourney, one in which the (6-1) Jayhawks went 2-1.

Adams scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds while playing 22 minutes versus the (5-1) Volunteers. The 6-11, 250-pound Udeh had no points and two rebounds in seven minutes, while the 6-9, 240-pound Ejiofor did not score or grab a rebound during the final minute and 28 seconds of the double-digit loss.

Udeh and Ejiofor did not play in KU’s 69-68 overtime victory over Wisconsin in the semifinals. Adams had six points and six rebounds in 32 minutes. The other big used against the Badgers was Zach Clemence, a 6-10, 230 sophomore who had no points and three rebounds in 13 minutes. He was 0-for-6 shooting, 0-for-5 from three.

In an 80-74 first-round win over North Carolina State, Adams had eight points and five boards in 25 minutes. Udeh had two points and no rebounds in nine minutes and Ejiofor had one rebound, no points in five minutes.

“I thought Ernest did well,” Self said of Udeh’s work in the final. “We just were playing a lot of times four against five. KJ bless his heart, he had four layups and didn’t make them. (He was) just trying too hard.

“Whenever you don’t match up well,” Self added, “it needs to become a technical game offensively, and we never got to that point. We don’t execute well enough for it to be a technical game yet. We will. It’s just going to take some time.”

The KU bench, led by guard Joseph Yesufu’s 14 points, totaled 16 points against Tennessee. The bench scored two points against Wisconsin and four points against N.C. State.

The Vols used three true bigs in the game Friday. Their three bench players scored 21 points.

“They have good rim protection,” Self said of Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Vols, who held KU to 32.1% shooting. “What we’ve struggled with so far this year is scoring inside the paint or close shots over length. That obviously was the case (vs. UT). Their length definitely affected our shots. We had what would be considered by many (several) decent shots in pretty tight.

“They do a good job with their length of being in strong help defensively and still get to shooters. Lastly what they do so well defensively is blow up every screen with their physical presence and size. Even if you set a down screen and are going to try to curl it, they did a good job riding guys off screens. They are good at that, really good. I wish we were.”

KU will next meet Texas Southern at 7 p.m. Monday, at Allen Fieldhouse.