LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — After one of his team’s worst performances in years, Bill Self likened the Kansas team he put on the floor Wednesday night to ones fielded by Dr. James Naismith back when the school was playing games against the Topeka YMCA.
The fifth-ranked Jayhawks had just lost to Big 12 bottom-dweller TCU, which had been winless in its first eight conference games. And before that was a loss to Oklahoma State that ended a nation-leading 18-game winning streak, and a 33-game run of success at Allen Fieldhouse.
Two straight losses? Not much to complain about most places.
Most places aren’t like Kansas.
“It hasn’t been our best week we’ve had around here all year,” said Self, whose team had gone 264 games without back-to-back losses. “I think everybody in every profession goes through rough weeks.”
Now tied with rival Kansas State for the Big 12 lead, the Jayhawks (19-3, 7-2) head to Oklahoma on Saturday trying to solve a litany of problems — and trying to avoid losing three straight for the first time since February 2005.
Naturally, Self is also at work trying to repair his team’s wounded psyche.
“We went 80 days in a row without losing a game and all of a sudden now, in five days the sky is falling?” Self said before Friday’s workout. “I’m not buying into that theory at all.”
Neither is his team. They had a players-only meeting Thursday in an attempt to sort things out.
It was led by the senior starters — Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Kevin Young — and each had a chance to speak. They bounced ideas off each other and watched tape from their 74-66 victory over Ohio State earlier in the year.
In that game, freshman Ben McLemore led the Jayhawks with 22 points. They were efficient on offense, shooting 51 percent from the field, and resembled a cozy blanket on defense, holding the Buckeyes to just 30.8-percent shooting.
At some point in the weeks that followed, things started to go awry.
It took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by McLemore that he insists he banked in on purpose to force overtime in a home win over Iowa State. The Jayhawks had decisive wins over Texas Tech and Baylor after that, but three of their next four games were decided by fewer than 10 points. The Jayhawks only broke 70 once since Iowa State on Jan. 9, and have struggled on the offensive boards, losing the battle in four of the past six games.
Freshman forward Perry Ellis said Friday the team has been asking questions like, “Are we each giving our best effort? Are we trying to do what’s best for the team?”
“We’re obviously all pretty upset,” he said, “but we’ve just got to move on to the next game.”
It will have been two weeks since the Jayhawks beat Oklahoma 67-54 at Allen Fieldhouse when the teams meet Saturday at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. In that match-up, the Jayhawks overcame their lousy offense with some stingy defense, and that’s what they’ve been hanging their hat on during a rough start to the conference schedule.
That’s how they were even in the game against the Horned Frogs on Wednesday night, when they had just four points midway through the first half and finished with 13 at the break.
“I don’t think our confidence is shaken as much as we just played bad,” Self said. “I actually thought we played pretty hard against TCU, we just didn’t get much for it.”
Self said the confidence is still there.
The Jayhawks just need some shots to start falling.
“This is the same team that was ranked No. 2 in the nation a week ago,” he said, “so if our confidence is shaken, then we’re not very tough.”
The Jayhawks are still in the hunt for a ninth-straight Big 12 title, but their margin for error has been almost entirely wiped out. They have the tiebreaker over Kansas State by virtue of their win earlier this season in Manhattan, but the Wildcats visit the Phog on Monday night.
First, though, the Jayhawks had better focus on Oklahoma.
“We’ll be better moving forward, no question,” Self said. “We’ve been living on borrowed time for a while now and it has caught up to us and certainly we knew something like this could happen.”
Added McLemore, who still leads the Jayhawks in scoring: “We’ve just got to go out there and play now. We’ve got to go out there and play Kansas basketball.”
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