Kansas defeated Boston University in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 18, 2011 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 72-53 victory over Boston on March 18, 2011.
Tulsa, Okla. Afterward, theories abounded as to why Kansas University opened its NCAA Tournament Friday night in the BOK Center looking Don Knotts-nervous in the first half.
One that seemed to have a little credence was that all the emphasis placed on the Northern Iowa loss of a year ago, with a story and pictures from Sports Illustrated about it taped to the players’ lockers, backfired.
It was a harmless backfire because Kansas won the game, 72-53, but it makes coach Bill Self’s ambivalence when approached by one of his assistant’s about the SI motivational ploy understandable. Last week, Self spoke to the risk in doing so because if that hand is overplayed, it introduces too much negativity into the equation.
Fear of losing always motivates well, but re-living a loss too often can make the air stale, even smelly. Everybody knows that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. What’s less studied is that those who obsess on history can be at greater risk to repeat it.
That’s why sports psychologists who work with golfers stress to them to never say to themselves, “Don’t hit it in the woods,” because the brain doesn’t process the negative and hears, “Hit it in the woods.” Similarly, “Don’t let yourself succumb to an early exit via upset again,” could have led to a defensive approach, creating a cloud of impending disaster. The longer Boston University stuck around in the first half, the more the Northern Iowa game befouled the air.
“I didn’t tell coach this, but I took it down out of my locker, because I really didn’t want to read it because it was just things that we’ve been reminded of that for so long, watching ESPN highlights,” Marcus Morris said of the SI spread. “It’s on every day. We were just out there watching at the top of the screen and seeing it again. I’m just tired of seeing it.”
That loss denied Kansas a trip to the Sweet 16, but as far as national perception, it was treated more like a first-round loss because the name of the opponent, Northern Iowa, wasn’t nearly as impressive as the team itself. Upsets make the masses tune in, so they tend to be rehashed when the next tourney arrives.
Kansas has gone 66-5 the past two years. Nationally, one of those five losses has been discussed more than the other 70 games combined. Enough already.
“We know what we need to do,” Marcus Morris said. “We know what we need to do to stop that from happening, and we’ve just got to move on.”
The next opponent, Illinois, has too big a name on its orange jerseys for the slipper to fit, so it’s never a problem for the foes’ keyed-up juices to flow from the opening tip, particularly as good as the Illini looked in destroying UNLV in the game after KU’s.
Adrenaline can’t be faked. It’s either there or it isn’t, and for every Kansas opponent, every game from November through April, it’s there.
The emotional edge generally lies with the underdog, as it did Friday. And then there are athletes who don’t experience emotional swings and play with machine-like precision every possession. Guys like Tyrel Reed.
In the first half of shaky nerves leading to KU’s inability to shake the quick Terriers, Reed looked quicker than teammates who usually look quicker than him. He played taller than guys who usually play taller than him.
“He’s been here a million times. It’s nothing new to him,” sophomore post player Thomas Robinson said. “For me, it was my first tournament game that I played (early in a game. He played seven minutes against Lehigh). For the twins, it’s their first year of being the leaders on this team. But Tyrel, he’s been here multiple years, so none of this is new to him.”
Strictly first-game jitters? Will they be gone Sunday?
“They were gone after the first half,” Robinson said.
Good point. Kansas won the second half, 39-24.
But for Reed, who scored all eight of his points in the first, Kansas might have found itself trailing at the half, instead of leading by four.
He was better than his line in the box score, and that line best could be summed up in one word: efficient. In 29 minutes, Reed totaled eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal and did not have a single turnover. He made three of four shots and two of three three-pointers. He did not attempt a shot in the second half.
“I just have the mind-set that this is the last go-around. There’s no reason to have any jitters,” Reed said. “Just play basketball, the game that I love. And I love being here.”
Reed has seen too many underdogs fly out of the locker room riding a high created by the word Kansas, playing out of their minds, making shots they don’t usually make, to let it freak him out when it sees it happen again.
“At the beginning of every game, coach puts some stuff on the board, and he always puts, ‘Long game,’ and it is a long game,” Reed said. “You’ve just got to keep playing.”
Reed wants to play five more games more than he’s ever wanted anything, and he knows the way to get there is to trust the process, enjoy the journey and let the result take care of itself.
His teammates received a lesson lasting 20 minutes on the game clock in the value of that approach.