Kansas couldn’t hang with Auburn in transition
SALT LAKE CITY — Bill Self spoke like a man who knew what was coming.
The scout on Auburn was cut and dry.
The Tigers can flat-out run. Their guards can push the ball up the floor with as much speed as anyone the Jayhawks faced this season. Auburn's defensive pressure — statistically the best in all of college basketball — oftentimes sparks its offensive effort on the other end. He knew as much as Kansas likes to play with pace, Auburn takes it to another level.
That level couldn't be matched Saturday as the Tigers raced down the court with ease. They dominated the first-half transition game to the point they were uncatchable.
"You see how New Mexico State dominated the glass so you wanted to at least give yourself a chance," Self said. "But the things that you have to — when you're playing an athletic team like that, and they're far more athletic and quicker, the things you have to do is, your first step has to be full speed. You can't run an even race with them. You have to be ahead, because if you run an even race, it will be hard to catch up. That's where they hurt us the most."
It was something several Auburn players alluded to during Friday's open locker room.
The Tigers thought, if there was one area they could take advantage of the matchup, it would be in the open floor. Boy, did they turn out to be correct.
Auburn won the first-half fast-break points battle 26 to 1. Yes, you read that right. There was a 24-out-of-32-points stretch where the Tigers scored on fast-break buckets. By the end of the night, Auburn had tallied 34 points in transition to Kansas' 8.
For a team also known for pace, the Jayhawks couldn't keep up.
"We watched film on them and knew they struggled to get back. They have a lot of young players on their team. So we knew that was going to be an issue," Samir Doughty said. "We knew we’d be able to get out and run. We’re a running team. Not a lot of teams want to run with Kansas, but we knew wanted to run with them. We knew it was going to be a problem for them to get back."
Even with the film sessions, there's still the unknown of actual game action.
It can look like a favorable matchup on tape and then feel completely different when the flow of the game takes course. Somehow, Auburn was able to exploit that athletic advantage even more than it initially expected.
Turnovers turned into open-court opportunities. Jared Harper found creases in the defense and found his open shooters to boot. The fast-break massacre became something Kansas couldn't contain, couldn't keep up with and, as a result, couldn't survive with on the scoreboard.
"We knew they were a bigger team, but I was very surprised how slow they were in transition. They struggled that first half, struggled to get back, struggled to keep us in front. Jared did what he did and just kept on applying the pressure and finding shooters. He found me several times in the first half. I was just surprised they were that slow as a team," Bryce Brown said. "That’s scary. That’s dangerous. But it starts on the defensive side with us. When we turn people over we can get out and get those shots in transition."