LAWRENCE, Kan. — There is not much the Kansas Jayhawks can do to reduce minutes for Frank Mason.
The sophomore point guard is essential to the No. 13 Jayhawks, considering their other point guard, freshman Devonte Graham, is healing from a foot injury.
So against the UNLV Rebels on Sunday, Mason played 38 minutes and still provided as much energy as anyone on the floor as the Jayhawks tripped the Rebels, 76-61, in Allen Fieldhouse.
“That’s what I take pride in, just being tough,” Mason said.
Enough so that he not only led Kansas with 18 points, but also had seven assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Often, plays Mason made on the defensive end turned into productive fast breaks as the Jayhawks claimed a 19-4 advantage in transition points, while scoring 20 points off the Rebels’ 12 turnovers.
“I play every possession like it’s game point,” said the 5-foot-11 Mason.
Still, Kansas coach Bill Self realizes Mason cannot play such extended minutes throughout the Big 12 schedule, which is next up for the Jayhawks. Kansas has captured 10 consecutive conference titles.
“If we can get Frank’s minutes down to 30, that will make him even faster,” Self said.
The Jayhawks went 11-2 in nonconference play, though the two defeats raised eyebrows after they fell by 32 against Kentucky and by 25 against Temple.
“The reality of it was, we didn’t play as good as our record,” Self said. “From a getting-better standpoint, it was just average.”
Junior forward Perry Ellis had 16 points and nine rebounds, while freshman guard Kelly Oubre added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Wayne Selden had 16 points. Junior forward Jamari Traylor finished with only 4 points, but managed to grab nine rebounds.
As his typical discretion prior to conference play, Self whittled his rotation. Only eight Jayhawks played. Freshman forward Cliff Alexander was the only reserve who scored, netting 10 points.
UNLV (9-5) led 33-29 at halftime, but lost the advantage when Kansas got off to a 9-2 start in the second half. The Rebels were led by senior point guard Cody Doolin and sophomore forward Christian Wood with 12 points apiece. Wood also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
“It was a daunting challenge, playing in this building where they’re so good,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “They didn’t out-effort us. They out-executed us.”
Mason sparked the second-half getaway for Kansas with his scrappy defense, converting several steals into layups, some by himself and some off breakouts in which he involved his teammates. The Jayhawks led 63-57 before a nine-point spree expanded the margin to 15 at the final media time out.
UNLV used a 13-2 flurry at the end of the first half to claim a 33-29 advantage at the break. The Rebels scored on all but two of their last nine possessions after trailing by nine barely four minutes into the game. A 9-0 run by Kansas overturned a 51-49 UNLV lead and was keyed by Mason, who drove for two buckets and added a 3-pointer during the spree.
“He’s the guy that makes that team go,” Rice said. “As talented as their whole team is, he was the first guy we put on our scouting report.”
Freshman guard Rashad Vaughn led the Rebels with eight first-half points, but finished with just 10 while being hounded by the Jayhawks’ Oubre.
Selden paced the Jayhawks with nine first-half points, all coming on 3-pointers in the first four minutes. After that blistering start, Selden attempted just two more shots the remainder of the half. Mason had three steals in the first half as the most active Jayhawk on defense. He also had seven points.
NOTES: PG Devonte Graham is no longer wearing a walking boot stemming from the sprained toe he suffered at Georgetown on Dec. 10. He is doing cardio work, but not yet practicing. … Kansas will be the last Big 12 team to begin conference play when it travels to Baylor on Jan. 7. … Kansas was the third top-15 team UNLV faced in a three-game span, including a 71-67 win over No. 3 Arizona on Dec. 23. … Both UNLV and Kansas will be participants next season at the Maui Invitational.
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