Bill Self has taken two Tulsa teams, all three Illinois squads and each of his nine Kansas University clubs to the NCAA Tournament.
He has compiled a 29-12 record in tourney games — including a 20-7 mark at Kansas — has been to the Elite Eight six times and won a national championship in 2008.
Yet, until Sunday night in the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., the 19th-year Division I college basketball coach had never coached a team that won an NCAA Tournament game it trailed at halftime.
Kansas didn’t lead in its 63-60 victory against Purdue until Elijah Johnson hit a three-pointer with 3:04 left. The Jayhawks trailed at the half, 36-30, a deficit that grew to 10 points before the comeback started.
The victory made Self 1-9 in NCAA Tournament games in which his team was behind at the half, 28-3 when leading.
Most of his teams aren’t accustomed to falling behind, so when it happens, the pressure of playing catch-up ball without a great deal of experience at it mounts, and the final buzzer sounds too early.
Not playing well from behind, to a large extent, can be a consequence of being too good, scoring too many blowouts, experiencing little more than relief after victories, dejection after losses.
This team is different from most of Self’s in that it doesn’t routinely overwhelm opponents with talent and has to rely more on will than skill to win consistently.
These Jayhawks have gone 5-3 in games they trailed at halftime. Kansas can thank Missouri for helping it to win Sunday’s warts-and-all classic. The Tigers led by a dozen after 20 minutes in Allen Fieldhouse, and the deficit swelled to 19 before KU’s famous comeback victory in overtime.
“Huge,” senior guard Tyshawn Taylor said of that comeback helping KU in the Purdue game.
Taylor was able to tell teammates with credibility at halftime that they all had been there before, a luxury upon which teams too loaded can’t rely.
The Missouri thriller was by far the most impressive, but KU also overcame regular-season halftime deficits in Allen Fieldhouse against Iowa State and Texas A&M; and in Norman against Oklahoma.
In the Missouri comeback, it was Taylor who stayed so calm at such a high speed.
In the Purdue game, Johnson steered the ship to safety.
They don’t fear stormy conditions, they attack them with confidence.