The Day After: Outplayed in Oklahoma
Saturday's 67-62 loss at Oklahoma State by the Kansas University men's basketball team continued the Jekyll and Hyde pace of the season for the Jayhawks, who have shown a wild tendency to look amazing one game and lousy the next, sometimes even good and bad from half to half.
This team has avoided the fate of having that trend produce a .500 record, but Saturday's effort certainly made for a .500 afternoon. Great for one half and lost for the other.
KU coach Bill Self said after the game that he didn't think his team had played all that well in the first half, rather they “just made shots.”
“If you go 7-of-9 from three, you should have a lead,” he added.
And the Jayhawks certainly did. After leading by 14 at one point, KU settled on a 41-30 first-half lead and cruised to the locker room in total control. But rather than roll over, Oklahoma State found a way to get fired up in the other locker room and came out on fire. The Cowboys took their first lead of the second half less than four minutes into it and then controlled the rest of the game the way the Jayhawks controlled the first half.
Despite a terrible second half, KU found a way to hang close and actually had a possession to tie it inside 30 seconds, but the Jayhawks' trend of sloppy, sluggish offense in the second half did them in down the stretch, as well, and OSU snagged the victory that set off a court storming for the second year in a row.
I talked about it on the radio last week and wrote about it after the game: If I'm any one of KU's future opponents, I open the game with a press and see what that can get me. I don't care if pressing is not in your arsenal. Against these Jayhawks, at least right now, you better find a way to get it there because, to date, KU has not shown it can handle the press very well at all. Part of that is a lack of experience against it. Part of that is a lack of the type of intensity and focus needed to really execute against a press. And another part of it is bad energy. Rather than taking it as a challenge and desiring to prove that they can beat the press, the Jayhawks appear annoyed and flustered by it and one turnover or mistake quickly turns into two or three, which, in turn, fuels the team applying the pressure, particularly on the road. There's no doubt that KU has the talent and coaching to figure out how to handle pressure better. But what started as a little hiccup late in victories against TCU and Iowa State has become a full-blown problem.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Regardless of when they came or how tough they were to get in the second half, KU's shooting was red-hot from behind the arc. Kansas hit 7 of 9 from downtown in the first half and finished the game 10-of-20 from three-point range overall. No matter what the result, knocking in 50 percent of your shots from three-point range makes for a good day in that department.
2 – The Jayhawks weren't good in many areas — especially individually — but they were OK on the boards. That probably shouldn't go down as a reason to smile, given KU's size advantage, but let's face it there weren't many other reasons to smile. KU matched OSU rebound-for-rebound, snagging 13 offensive boards and 22 defensive boards. There were times when Jamari Traylor (4) and Perry Ellis (3) looked great on the offensive glass, but, again, with KU's superior size it probably should've held a 5-10 rebounding advantage over the Cowboys.
3 – Cliff Alexander looked slow and a little lost at times, especially during the hustle moments when the ball was loose or up for grabs. But he was the only Jayhawk to hit better than 50 percent of his shots and finished 4-of-5 from the floor for 8 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. The 16 minutes show you just how not into the game Alexander was from an effort and energy standpoint, but, offensively, he did well when he was in there.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I asked Self after the game who he felt he and this team should look to for an energy boost during moments like the start of the second half when the other team is taking it to KU. His answer was the same one we've heard all season — Jamari Traylor — but, for the first time, Self was not praising Traylor's energy and instead seemed very annoyed by his lack of it. Traylor had a couple of moments where he played under control and took it strong to the basket on offense, but he coughed up six turnovers against zero assists — alarming numbers for one of the team's veterans — and carried that signature bad body language with him for way too many minutes.
2 – KU's free throw shooting, in general, was bad (10-of-19 overall, 2-of-6 in the second half), but Frank Mason's struggles at the line seem to be a bigger problem. Mason, who is shooting .759 from the free throw line for the season (second best on the team), missed the front end of two crucial one-and-ones late in the game, which wound up costing the Jayhawks precious points and feeding the Oklahoma State momentum. It's easy to look at the 10-of-19 total and say, “If they just would've made five more free throws,” but sometimes it's more the how and when they're missing them that hurts the most.
3 – There's no denying that this team has a ton of individual talent, good depth and a great shot to still win the Big 12 title. Saturday did not change any of that. But I did see moments, especially when KU got up by double digits, where it looked as if these guys just kind of expected that because their jerseys say “Kansas” and they play in this powerhouse program that it should or at least could be easy. Lazy bounce passes, poor execution and a lack of fire all made me wonder if they're still a little too drunk on power to realize that, at KU, you have to make sure you at least match your opponent's intensity night in and night out because they're going to be gunning for you every time. This team has gone up and down in that area all season and usually looked great when challenged with a hugely hyped game or following a loss. But if they truly want to make any kind of memorable run in March, they've got to find a way to bring that against the TCUs and Texas Techs of the world as easily as they do against the Iowa States and big-name programs.
One for the road
KU's second consecutive loss in Stillwater, Oklahoma:
• Snapped KU's five-game winning streak and made the Jayhawks 8-2 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
• Dropped KU’s all-time advantage in the series with Oklahoma State to 110-56, including a 21-9 mark in Big 12 games.
• Marked the second straight win for OSU against KU inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, tying the series at 33-33 inside the facility.
• Made Self 344-73 while at Kansas, 14-10 against his alma mater (13-7 at Kansas) and 551-178 overall.
• Made KU 2,145-826 all-time.
The Jayhawks will stay on the road for a 8 p.m. Tuesday meeting with Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. href="http://www2.kusports.com/news/2015/ja...">KU destroyed the Red Raiders 86-54 on Jan. 10 in Lawrence.