UC Irvine-Kansas Preview
Kansas has one final tune-up before its Big 12 schedule begins, and coach Bill Self believes the peak of one of his most important players is arriving just in time.
The second-ranked Jayhawks host UC Irvine on Tuesday night seeking their first 10-game winning streak since an 18-game run in 2012-13, and forward Perry Ellis' next test comes against a team with some unique size.
Kansas (10-1), which begins conference play Saturday at home against Baylor, played its first true road game last Tuesday without much issue in a 70-57 win over San Diego State. Ellis had 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting - numbers that aren't out of the ordinary - but his coach offered plenty of praise.
"This was the best he's been," Self said. "I'll be real candid with you. We've said all along he's been OK. But he hasn't been great by any stretch. But I thought tonight was the most aggressive he'd been all year long. Hopefully that's a big step in the right direction because we're going to have play through him. He's going to have to be a low-post scorer for us."
Ellis had scored all 14 of his first-half points just past the midway point of the period, and a 3-pointer with 8:52 left in the half gave the Jayhawks a 26-13 lead.
Ellis said Self is "always challenging me and that's making me a better player. So I try to come out and attack and good things will happen knocking down some shots."
While Self wants to lean on Ellis inside, the team's perimeter shooting might make that easier on the senior. Kansas is shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range for the season, which is among the best in the nation.
Wayne Selden Jr. leads that end of the attack with a 55.4 percent mark, giving the junior a team-leading 15.5 points per game to Ellis' 15.2. That's slowed down some in the last two games with Selden connecting on 1 of 6 from long range for 10.5 points.
Defensively, the Jayhawks have only once allowed an overall field-goal percentage higher than their own 3-point mark. That came in a 79-73 neutral-court loss to Michigan State on Nov. 17 (46.7 percent), and the Jayhawks' nine wins since have come by an average of 24.3 points while holding opponents to 38.4 percent.
They've also won their last 13 home games against nonconference opponents by an average of 20.8 points since losing to San Diego State on Jan. 5.
UC Irvine, which gave Louisville a scare as a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, has lost its last 11 games against the Top 25 by 20.2 points with the margin in the two against the top five being 32.0.
The Anteaters (10-4) are coming off last Tuesday's 80-62 win over Norfolk State in the championship game of the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas. Mamadou Ndiaye tied a career high with 21 points and Luke Nelson added 17 as the Anteaters won their third straight.
Nelson won the tournament MVP while averaging 16.5 points, and the guard has averaged 13.3 in his last six after a three-game stretch in which he was 4 for 27 from the field for 4.7 points.
The 7-foot-6 Ndiaye is Irvine's leading scorer at 12.4 points per game, and he's one of four rotation players of at least 6-10. Even so, it hasn't worked out to a substantial rebounding advantage with Irvine posting a plus-1.5 mark. Kansas is at plus-6.1 with the 6-8 Ellis leading the way at 5.9 per game.