Texas Tech v Kansas

Elijah Johnson becoming the point guard Bill Self wanted

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After a loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, Kansas coach Bill Self famously said that the Jayhawks didn’t possess a point guard on their roster.

It was shot at the less-than-stellar play of Elijah Johnson.

“We don’t have a point guard,” Self told the Topeka Capital-Journal after the game. “It’s sad. […] We were definitely a better team with (Johnson) sitting down next to us and putting somebody else in the game.”

That was building up all season for Self and Johnson. The senior had had decent games, but seemed to lack the basketball IQ to play the point for the Jayhawks. It didn’t get any better for a few games after that. In fact, it got worse. Johnson registered no more than four assists in the next six games and at least four fouls or three turnovers in at least five of those games.

But then came the Iowa State game and the monster 39-point, seven-assist effort that almost single-handedly pulled Kansas up and out with a win in Hilton Coliseum. Although Johnson’s game-finishing slam dunk was frowned upon (and booed upon) by fans and some media members alike, it almost seemed cathartic for Johnson, who had struggled to live up to Self’s expectations.

Without much publicity, he’s only become more of a point guard over the last two games for Self and Kansas.

In the Jayhawks’ 79-42 blowout home win over Texas Tech on Monday night, Johnson went for just seven points, but dished out 12 assists with only two turnovers and no fouls. The game comes after a 10-assist night in the team’s 91-65 rout of West Virginia on Saturday.

It’s Johnson’s first back-to-back assist games of the season and third overall this year.

The senior’s reputation has never been as a facilitator. Partly because he hasn’t had to be and partly because that’s not his game. But recently, albeit against two far inferior teams, Johnson has evolved into that role. He’s averaging 4.7 assists per game this year.

But even with that in perspective, it’s progress. With Jeff Withey proving to be one of the better low-post finishers in the nation and Ben McLemore cementing himself more and more as an NBA Draft Lottery pick in June, there’s room for Johnson to play the floor general role and defer the points to his teammates.

Looking back, Johnson is at his best in some big games when passing more this season. He had nine assists in wins over potential NCAA Tournament teams St. Louis, Temple and Belmont, along with a 10-assist game in a home overtime win over Iowa State.

So maybe he’s not Michael Carter-Williams, but Johnson doesn’t have to be. But heading into the Big Dance with Kansas as a prime candidate for a no. 1 seed, Johnson becoming somewhat of a distributor might be the role he best fits to keep the Jayhawks in line with their own expectations: A deep run into March and possibly April.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.