Isaiah Moss didn’t need a pep talk to break out of his prolonged slump.
The Kansas basketball senior guard certainly didn’t get one from his head coach, at least.
"I just tell him to keep shooting it,” Self said Sunday, shortly after Moss’ breakout performance in the Jayhawks’ 72-56 victory at Stanford. “We want him to keep shooting it. He's a big key to our team because if he doesn't stretch it then we can look pretty inept at times."
Moss certainly proved his worth against the Cardinal.
“We had to have somebody make some shots,” Self said. “Isaiah was good.”
The former Iowa graduate transfer scored a team-high 17 points in the victory, going 6-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. He also notched three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 27 minutes off the Jayhawk bench.
The lopsided victory helped KU (10-2) jump two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday, with Moss’ squad now ranked third behind only Gonzaga and Duke. KU plays host to No. 16 West Virginia (11-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
“We know he can shoot the ball,” junior guard Marcus Garrett said of Moss. “We know he can shoot at a high clip. He’s already proven that at the college level. So for him to be able to knock down shots tonight was great.”
Moss does have a track record of success from beyond the arc, just not at KU — at least on a consistent basis.
A career 39.5% shooter from 3-point range, Moss entered Sunday’s contest just 6-for-23 from distance across the Jayhawks’ previous six contests, a skid that dropped his season clip to 39% from 3. Moss missed all three of his 3-point tries in a 15-minute appearance on Dec. 21 at Villanova, scoring no points and recording no assists, rebounds or steals in the then-No. 1 Jayhawks' 56-55 defeat.
Self on Friday expressed his disappointment in the senior guard’s lack of contributions in that outcome. Not only does KU need Moss to make shots, Self said, but the 6-foot-5, 208-pounder has to bring a higher activity level to the table for the Jayhawks to reach their goals.
Moss delivered Sunday, with Self saying he “played great" and that he "was happy for him."
“Felt great,” Moss said. “It’s been a while, but I’m glad to be knocking down shots. My teammates got me the ball. ... (I was) just a little more relaxed, not thinking about it as much, just letting it go.”
Moss’ trey just ahead of the halftime buzzer gave the Jayhawks a 10-point lead, and the Chicago native caught fire out of the intermission. His back-to-back-to-back 3s gave KU an 18-point advantage with 15:39 remaining and delighted the large contingent of Jayhawk supporters that created a split environment for the contest.
Again, no rah-rah motivational speech received credit for Moss’ outing.
“Coach always challenges me,” Moss said, “but it’s up to me just to stay focused, keep believing in myself and go out there and play like I know how to play.”
Moss even earned Self’s trust enough to start the second half in place of sophomore forward David McCormack, a decision the coach indicated was a no-brainer — though it may not be one that carries over into the starting lineup just yet.
“I've said it all along: We're better playing four guards and one big,” Self said in his postgame radio interview. “West Virginia may be a little different story, the way they play, pound the glass and the way they play two bigs and sometimes three bigs at once. They're going to make it a fist fight. That was very impressive what they did (Sunday). That may be the best league win we've had so far this year, them beating Ohio State on a neutral floor.”
Azubuike better than stat line
Attacked with traps and double teams all afternoon, KU senior center Udoka Azubuike was held to just two points on 1-for-2 shooting against Stanford. He did, however, pull down a game-high 13 rebounds, with seven of those coming on the offensive glass.
Self said the box score wasn’t a reflection of how well the 7-footer performed against the Cardinal.
"Doke statistically didn't have a great game, but that was one of the better games he's played, except he just didn't handle the trap worth a flip,” Self said. “But he rebounded, and they got him down for no blocks, and that's not right at all because he had a couple in the first half at least.
“I thought that Doke was good. I thought he defended. I thought he protected the rim. I thought they didn't challenge us much inside in large part because of him probably. He was good."
Still, there remains one glaring deficiency in Azubuike’s game: He went 0-for-5 from the free-throw line, dropping his season conversion rate to just 31.8%. That percentage would be the lowest of the fourth-year player’s collegiate career.
“The bottom line is, (Azubuike) and Christian (Braun) and Tristan (Enaruna), they've got to make some free throws,” said Self, whose Jayhawks went 9-for-18 from the free-throw line. “That's the bottom line. I still believe they will. Doke wasn't close today though. That was a little discouraging, that he wasn't close. And he got frustrated because he wasn't getting the ball, but they trapped him every time. He wasn't going to score today. They made other guys beat 'em, and fortunately we had other guys step up."