Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Monday’s Big 12 coronation the end of a long and winding road for Kansas basketball

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike gives a hug to senior guard Devonte' Graham while the team watches a highlight video following their 80-70 win over Texas on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. The win gave the Jayhawks an outright win of their 14th-straight Big 12 Conference title.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike gives a hug to senior guard Devonte' Graham while the team watches a highlight video following their 80-70 win over Texas on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. The win gave the Jayhawks an outright win of their 14th-straight Big 12 Conference title.


If last Saturday's victory over Texas Tech produced the celebration of the Kansas basketball team clinching an NCAA-record 14th consecutive Big 12 title — shiny new hats, water flying, Jayhawks jumping — then Monday's 10-point win over Texas at Allen Fieldhouse was the coronation.

Trumpets blared. Spoils were brought to the center of the empire. Banners and flags flew in the air.

The Kansas Jayhawks were once again kings of the Big 12 Conference and this night was reserved just for them.

Forget about the grind of the season or the ups and downs. Forget about the doubts, the depth, the questions, the cracks.

None of those things mattered on Monday. The Jayhawks had earned the right to catch their breath. And between celebrating yet another Big 12 title — like only Kansas knows how to do — and sending off seniors Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Clay Young in style, Monday's shared experience between a team and its fan base was a welcomed break from the pressure cooker that this group has operated in all season.

“It felt good,” Graham said after all of the festivities. “It's nice for the fans, we get to bring all the trophies out and watch the videos and soak it all in. For us, it was our last time so it was just special.”

There was a time — perhaps several times — when a night like Monday was far from a given. And we're not just talking about the so-called experts, cynical fans or salivating haters. Even people associated with KU's program wondered quietly whether this team had what it took to keep the streak alive. Important people. Notable people. Confident people.

“Honestly, no,” said KU coach Bill Self, when asked if, midway through the season, he knew his team would get to this point. “But I don't think it was midway through. I think it was two games in. Because I didn't feel it. And there's been numerous times during this conference season that I haven't felt it. But, when we haven't played well, we've had one or two guys step up in that particular game to kind of carry us or whatever it is. But we've played better here the last two-and-a-half weeks. There's no doubt about that.”

It's funny. Because doubt turned out to be one of the biggest reasons for KU's about-face, transforming from a team that struggled to bring good energy and play with passion and purpose into the team that ran away with the Big 12 race during the past couple of weeks.

Heck, even Self at one point called this team the softest team he's had at Kansas and the Hall of Fame coach was still searching for the right buttons to push as recently as three weeks ago.

Graham talked briefly about this team's rough stretch during his Senior Night speech, saying the things he saw and read on the Internet about these guys not being worthy of wearing the Kansas uniform fueled him — and them — to be better.

“I don't know if everybody saw that,” Graham said of the harsh messages from KU's critics. “But I saw it. And it just put a little chip on my shoulder and helped me go out and lead better and want it more. I know we all wanted it, obviously, but I think the negative comments and seeing people doubt us definitely made us have a chip on our shoulder.

“We all like to compete or we wouldn't be at this level playing. Being called soft is not something you want to be called, so obviously you're going to change that and we had to change it as a team. Coming out not having energy, that kind of stuff, that's kind of being soft. We just looked at each other eye to eye and said, 'We have to change.' And we did.”

It's funny how motivation can do that to a team. And now that the Jayhawks have accomplished the first of their long list of goals, the idea from here on out is not to change but to build.

This Kansas team, all of a sudden, is playing with the kind of confidence that so many of Self's better teams from the past played with down the stretch. Graham deserves the lion's share of the credit for that, but Mykhailiuk, Self and KU's getting-stronger-by-the-day supporting cast deserves praise as well.

“Losing at home, our backs against the wall, coach Self challenging us saying this is the softest team ever, things like that. … I think you can tell a lot from our team this year because, when our backs were against the wall, he sat us down and he was like, 'We can do this, we can win the next six games and win a Big 12 championship. It just depends on us and whether we want to do it and come together as a team,'” recalled walk-on Clay Young.

The Jayhawks (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12) have done just that. And the challenge now is finding a way to ride this hot streak for a few more weeks.

Starting by clinching the Big 12 crown outright was a good first step and it's clear that it meant something to these guys to win it with room to spare. But it's also clear that

“It's definitely great not sharing the title and we've just got to keep moving forward and think about the NCAA Tournament,” said Mykhailiuk before his good friend and teammate stepped in to correct him.

“No, no, no. We've got to think about Oklahoma State,” said Graham, thinking ahead to KU's next opponent in Saturday's regular season finale in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“Yeah. Oklahoma State,” added Mykhailiuk.

And with that, the coronation was complete. Back to the grind for sixth-ranked Kansas. Back to their pursuit of more reasons to celebrate.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Texas

By the Numbers: Kansas 80, Texas 70.

By the Numbers: Kansas 80, Texas 70.


Bill Corrigan 2 weeks, 6 days ago

From Devonte Graham:

“The bigger part of it is because so many people thought we wouldn’t win it this year. Coach Self spoke with us about the importance that this 14th one would have. They’ll remember all those teams that won the eighth, ninth, 10th, whatever, but the team that won the 14th, that’s a pretty special one.”

No other words needed. What a great quote!

Steve Zimmerman 2 weeks, 6 days ago

This is that time of year when it felt so good to be wrong. I've lowered my expectation with the hope they'd at least play their hearts out. And they did it exceptionally well!!

Bj Cassady 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I always supported and hoped but I had my doubts. Glad I was wrong, proved wrong.

Mike Greer 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Although I never thought they couldn't win #14, I must admit there were times when I thought they wouldn't. My low point was the home loss to OSU. I always thought if they could hold serve at home, the rest would work out somehow. Then came the OSU loss, not only did they not win at home, but it was a game everyone expected they would win as OSU was not a contender. Following that was the blown lead at OU anI really didn't know if they would win 14. Although OU and WVU were hitting bumps in their roads, TT just didn't seem capable of losing. Really glad th team came together and started hitting on all cylinders. It was rough when only two guys were scoring any given game.

Bryce Landon 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I doubted too, and was resigned to not winning the conference after losing at home to a bad Oklahoma State team (trailing by as many as 18 at one point) and getting drubbed by a mediocre Baylor team in Waco. Glad I was proved wrong too.

Kent Richardson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Bill himself said after a couple of losses he was thinking "we might be 9 and 9." That was when he said things about his frustration and being about out of options.

He played some zone, different starters and approved the Dok/Mitch fling. I think they made a cute couple but alas it was a rocky relationship.

He even tried shock therapy at the end of the OU road game but the patient shot like he was being touched with a cattle prod. Did get his attention though.

So Bill doubted too. And I'm still not overly sanguine and he may not be either.

John Brazelton 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Key injuries to Texas Tech helped more than anyone wants to admit.

Dave Miller 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Every team in the Big12 has taken their lumps this season. Kansas started out their season short handed. Playing 4 guards and 1 big, instead of a full complement with solid rotations available as with past teams. No point guard backup, forcing Devonte Graham to most nights play a full 40 minutes. This team took their lumps early when several players were either ineligible or transferred out. But this team didn't make a big deal out of it and came out to play and to win. You know several players legs had to dead tired, but still, they found a way.

Tom Jones 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Helped with the final spread but KU would still have won it (though possibly shared it).

Steve Zimmerman 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Sure, but history doesn't take that into account. Numbers what matter.

Allan Olson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

A whole bunch of true grit, and a little bit of luck, have somehow taken KU to the conference championship, and just maybe a #1 seed in the NCAA. No way I could see this coming at all, no how, the fat lady sang! Not that long ago I wrote we would be a #3 or 4 seed at best. At that time we're mired in the bottom 10 of the AP 25. Then all of a sudden, Dok has a couple great offensive moves working for him. And, he's playing more minutes and making better passes. Malik became the third alpha dog guard, then joined Devonte and Svi in never quitting in a game. Now I cannot wait for March Madness to start 'cause the JAYHAWKS are back.

Suzi Marshall 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Thinking back to Trae Young's comments when he committed to OU and through the pre-season, we should send that picture of Graham with the other guys holding the trophy to him. Perhaps with a photo of Graham receiving the POY trophy....conference and national.

Danny Hernandez 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I remember that quote too. Not only did he not contribute to helping Kansas win #14, he didn't help break the streak either. Personally, after reading many of his comments about why he committed to OU, I was glad he didn't choose Kansas. I never want Coach Self to promise to give the keys to any recruit

Thomas Joel 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"I want to break Kansas' [Big 12 title] streak," Young said. "It's not going to be easy, by any means, but that's something that I'm going to be hard on all year. If I would have went to Kansas, I would have been a little bit different, but I wanted to break that streak. That's my goal. We're gonna do it. I have all faith in God that that's what his plan is."

Kent Richardson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

God, in his infinite wisdom, tested Trae by making him the media darling. Trae being only eighteen embraced ESPN spending three days with him. Trae sinned in believing his own pub and pushed his game to fast to control. Then God or maybe it was the devil (I don't capitalize devil do I?) sent the Angel Jevon Carter to take the test up to the Job level.

As I wasn't briefed on the official results I can only look to the fact that DeVonte will probably get conference POY and consideration for 1st team AA. Since we don't live on the East coast both DeVonte and Trae may be on the second team together.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 6 days ago

A lot of people seemed to think that the team wouldn't develop over the course of the season and some people are even writing off players as if they won't develop from year to year. It can be a bit surprising when there is a regression like BU or OSU until remembering that these are college students. The thing that I am most confident about is Coach working his development magic. Never doubted it for a minute.

Robert Brock 2 weeks, 6 days ago

This team is the Un-Self Team: weak on defense and rebounding but able to overcome those frailties with efficient jump-shooting.

Amazing that Self could pull off another conference championship under the circumstances!

Kent Richardson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Bill is getting some national buzz lately. It didn't start sooner because of the bad home losses. I think it will go to Rick Barnes at Tennessee. A little ironic that Barnes has to change conferences to get an award. This IS Self's playground.

Marcus Balzer 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Who cares what Trae said. He chose OU and that is that. As far as what he said in the preseason what did you want him to say...'I can't wait to play for second place because we all know KU is going to win.' The kid is a competitor and I have no problem saying his goal was to end the streak. That is what you are suppose to do.

DaNeille Dani Davis 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I was one of those that had my doubts....KU was playing soft, no energy, no passion. So happy to see them turn that around and show emotion and passion and that desire to win!! Thanks for proving us all wrong! We appreciate that!! CONGRATULATIONS! ROCK CHALK!

Harlan Hobbs 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Good point, Mr. Brock. KU has traditionally relied on defense and rebounding to be a mainstay of the program. It just goes to show how much effort and grit plays a part, because on paper this was clearly supposed to be the year that the streak was broken, especially when we didn't have the services of Billy Preston.

Another major factor is the competitiveness of the league. After all, KU won it outright with 4 losses, and if they lose at OSU, it goes to 5. I distinctly remember Coach Self predicting that the winner of the conference might have as many as 5 losses. Very prophetic.

The biggest thing to play for is that, under Bill Self, KU has never been swept in the conference season by a school. By beating TTU at Lubbock, I believe that the streak in now 18-0 in "payback" games in the Self era. Let's keep that streak alive in Stillwater and cap off the regular season with six consecutive wins.

Ed Noyes 2 weeks, 6 days ago

A few weeks ago I suggested that we ought to let the Hall of Fame coach does his job and he did. They are physically challenged and few in numbers but they have become a very competent and somewhat efficient team. Remember, the 1988 team was small and few in number but they seemed to rally around one guy and came home with the prize. I also suggested that Silvio be played until he fouled out or learned to compete at this level. That may be working out also. Nice season...FOURTEEN STRAIGHT !!

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