SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason, as it turns out, still have great timing together.
Mason, the former Kansas basketball standout and current Sacramento Kings guard, was on commentary for a few first-half minutes of the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks’ game Thursday against Stanford at Mason’s new home arena, the Golden 1 Center. The former consensus college national player of the year used the opportunity to praise his former backcourt mate Graham.
“He’s running the show,” Mason said. “I think he’s doing a fantastic job.”
Before Mason could finish that thought, Graham dished a picturesque pass to teammate Udoka Azubuike, who threw down a dunk that capped an 18-2 run that put the Jayhawks (10-2) in firm command of the eventual 75-54 victory.
“What a pass by Devonte’ Graham right there,” Mason exclaimed and followed up with a laugh, both rarities from the stoic guard.
Right on cue, too.
Graham finished with 14 points and six assists, Azubuike posted a game-high 24 points on 12-for-15 shooting and the Jayhawks headed into the holiday break and Big 12 play on a high note. KU outscored the Cardinal in the paint 48-20 and shot 52.5 percent from the field collectively.
Svi Mykhailiuk (14 points) and Lagerald Vick (13) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Jayhawks, who let the Cardinal (6-7) get no closer than 14 in the second half. KU secured its first victory over a Pac-12 opponent in its last four tries, with defeats to Oregon, Washington and Arizona State preceding Thursday’s victory.
Graham had seven points in the 18-2 run and pitched in impressive assists on KU’s last bucket of the first half and first make of the second half.
The senior guard’s near half-court lob to a dunking Mykhailiuk out of a timeout gave the Jayhawks their portion of the 47-29 score at the break, and Graham’s dish under pressure set up a wide-open Azubuike dunk coming out of the half.
Coincidentally, Graham passed Stanford coach and former KU great Jerod Haase for 33rd on KU’s all-time scoring list.
Azubuike, meanwhile, had KU’s first 10 points and six of the Jayhawks’ first seven field goal attempts. The 7-foot sophomore center had 12 rebounds in KU’s last contest, a victory over Omaha, and a career-high 26 points two games ago at Nebraska.
“I thought Devonte’ was great the first half,” KU coach Bill Self said on his postgame radio appearance. “Doke was good early. He got tired. He only got seven rebounds, which isn’t enough for him, but he did play strong offensively and certainly he’s been on a little bit of a roll lately.
“All in all, hey, going into break, we’ll take this one.”
Mason, who only played 11 games with Azubuike before the latter’s season-ending wrist injury around this time last year, had high praise for the second-year big.
“Oh man, every time I talk about Kansas basketball I talk about that last season and how much we missed Udoka,” Mason said. “I think about it all the time honestly. He’s so huge and so effective on the offensive and defensive ends.”
Michael Humphrey had a game-high 20 points for Stanford, which got only 12 points from forward Reid Travis on 5-for-12 shooting. Travis scored 29 points in last year’s matchup between the two schools at Allen Fieldhouse and went 19 for 22 from the free throw line; in this matchup, Travis went 1 for 3 from the charity stripe.
“(We) did some good things. It’s a hard game to play,” Self said. “Last game before Christmas, everybody wants to be home with their family, but it will make for a lot sweeter Christmas now, getting this win.”
KU returns to action at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 when it begins conference play at Texas.
“It’s getting ready to get interesting,” Self said. “Our league is a monster — a monster. … We probably had about as weak a nonconference season as anybody (in the league).”
Graham, at least, appears ready for the conference — after some well-deserved R&R, of course.
“Now we get to go home for Christmas, spend a little time with family,” Graham said, “and then come back and ramp it up for conference play.”
One more question for Mason: Assuming health, how far does he see these Jayhawks — so many of whom he knows inside and out — going in the NCAA Tournament?
“Man, that’s a rhetorical question,” Mason said. “I think we’re going to win it all this year.”
Azubuike 12-15 0-2 24, Mykhailiuk 7-16 0-0 14, Newman 3-7 0-0 7, Vick 5-7 1-1 13, Graham 4-12 3-4 14, Lightfoot 0-1 0-0 0, Cunliffe 1-2 0-0 2, Garrett 0-1 1-3 1. Totals 32-61 5-10 75.
Humphrey 9-17 0-0 20, Travis 6-13 1-3 14, Da Silva 0-3 1-2 1, Cartwright 3-7 0-0 7, Davis 0-5 0-0 0, Okpala 2-8 1-2 6, Sharma 0-2 1-2 1, White 1-6 2-2 5. Totals 21-61 6-11 54.
Halftime — Kansas 47-29. 3-Point Goals — Kansas 6-18 (Graham 3-6, Vick 2-2, Newman 1-3, Lightfoot 0-1, Garrett 0-1, Mykhailiuk 0-5), Stanford 6-20 (Humphrey 2-6, Okpala 1-2, Cartwright 1-3, Travis 1-3, White 1-5, Sharma 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Kansas 33 (Mykhailiuk, Azubuike, Newman 7), Stanford 35 (Humphrey, Da Silva 7). Assists — Kansas 15 (Graham 6), Stanford 11 (Cartwright 4). Total Fouls — Kansas 18, Stanford 14.