LAWRENCE — As expected, Scott Drew wasn’t pleased with Saturday’s outcome.
Perhaps, though, a small part of the Baylor basketball coach was happy for a Jayhawk who played no small role in what amounted to Drew’s 12th defeat in 12 all-time tries inside Allen Fieldhouse.
“He’s gotten better all season long. Plays really hard,” Drew said of Kansas freshman forward David McCormack. “He’s somebody that, when you watch film, it’s easy to cheer for him because coaches love guys that compete and play hard, and he does.”
McCormack put those attributes on full display in the regular-season finale.
McCormack scored 12 points, including 10 in the first half, in the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks’ 78-70 victory over the Bears. The outcome secured an undefeated home campaign for KU, which next squares off with Texas at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
The victory also represented the second straight double-figure scoring output for McCormack, who had a career-high 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Jayhawks’ 81-68 defeat Tuesday at Oklahoma. The former McDonald’s All-American went 6 of 9 from the field Saturday and notched five rebounds for a second consecutive game.
What’s changed of late for the former four-star recruit, who still averages only 3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds? Patience both on and off the court, he said, has been key.
“Once you get an actual feel for the game," McCormack said, "at any point you can turn it on.”
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound native of Norfolk, Va., has averaged 16 minutes in the eight games since he joined the starting lineup, replacing outgoing senior guard Lagerald Vick in a move that gave the Jayhawks (23-8, 12-6 Big 12) four freshmen on the floor at tipoff. McCormack didn’t appear at all the final game before his ascension, a 74-67 defeat to Kansas State on Feb. 5 in Manhattan, and still tallies just 9.3 minutes per game on the season.
Reflecting on his time riding the bench, McCormack said he took advantage of the situation by simply watching junior forward Dedric Lawson and junior center Udoka Azubuike do work. Nothing, though, can replace in-game experience.
“The more you play, the more fun you have. The more fun you have, the more positive you are, the more confident you are,” McCormack said. “So everything, they just have a direct correlation.”
Lawson has noticed a different McCormack, an observation that goes beyond the box score.
“He’s just playing with confidence,” said Lawson, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds against the Bears and helped facilitate more opportunities inside for McCormack. “Like he said, he’s been patient. They’re not really doubling him, so he’s taking his time and he’s just making his move. A good shot is a good shot no matter hit or miss.”
When he’s confident and clicking, McCormack described himself as a player who can utilize both right- and left-handed jump hooks, someone with a face-up game, a 15-footer he can shoot “fairly well” and the vision to know when to kick it out to an open shooter.
While it’s too premature to forecast a March rise similar to that enjoyed last season by then-freshman forward Silvio De Sousa, McCormack said he’s capable of doing just that.
“I feel like I’ve always kind of proved myself and known the type of player I am,” McCormack said, “but over the past few games I feel like I have asserted myself as a post player and a post presence to be in the starting lineup.”
Perhaps he's also earned more minutes.
“I thought he played terrific. I probably should’ve played him more,” KU coach Bill Self said of McCormack’s 18-minute showing Saturday. “He was our best offensive player of the first half (and) made some good, strong moves.”
Self said he's seen improved chemistry between McCormack and Lawson, the latter the coach has referred to as the best passer he’s ever coached. That weapon, though, has been hampered since the season-ending injury suffered by Azubuike in early January.
“David’s not the type of athlete that Dedric can just throw it up to and things like that,” Self said, “but David does some things, I think, better than Doke from a skill-set standpoint.”
While McCormack hasn't had praise heaped on him by his head coach just yet — “Always wants more,” McCormack said with a laugh — he has more outsiders than ever believing in him.
At the very least, it's clear he's always believed in himself.
“I’ve always had the same touch. I’ve always had the same feel for the game,” McCormack said. “Now it’s just being more patient and building my confidence, and that just came with more playing time. The more you play the more you’re going to get a better feel for the games, and that’s been happening.”