Coming into this season, Kansas University junior guard Timeka O’Neal never had experienced a losing streak quite like the one in which the Jayhawks find themselves.
Come to think of it, O’Neal hadn’t experienced a collegiate losing streak of any length.
O’Neal was part of back-to-back 30-2 seasons at Johnson County Community College, where she played two years before transferring to KU in 2014.
Each season, JCCC won the Jayhawk Conference title and had a 20-game win streak. Over the course of 64 games, O’Neal’s team won by an average margin of 35 points.
“We won a lot of games,” O’Neal said.
KU, in contrast, has not.
Despite O’Neal’s career-high 18 points, the Jayhawks fell to 5-19 overall, 0-13 in the Big 12 with an 81-67 loss Saturday at Kansas State, running the Jayhawks’ losing streak under first-year coach Brandon Schneider to 15 games.
A native of Raytown, Mo., and former standout at Raytown High, O’Neal says JCCC helped her transition to college ball.
“It’s just the atmosphere there,” O’Neal said. “I got to understand the real meaning of playing against older girls and just getting the college feel first before I got to the Big 12.”
She also relished playing for JCCC coach Ben Conrad.
“Everything that man taught me I still stick with,” O’Neal said. “I love that man to death.”
Conrad has led his teams to six straight 30-win seasons, tied with late Oklahoma State women’s coach Kurt Budke for the most in National Junior College Athletic Association history.
Over the course of seven seasons at JCCC, his teams have won more than 200 games at an 85 percent clip, culminating in last season’s 2015 NJCAA National Championship win on a home-court buzzer beater.
Under Conrad’s coaching, the Cavs routinely wrap up games well before halftime. Conrad reminds his players during these games they need to focus on “the process over the product.”
Conrad admits the phrase is not original on his part and has become a sort of cliché in the coaching community. He was initially exposed to the concept during a coaching-philosophy course he took at Northern Iowa University that discussed its use by the Nebraska football team.
“(Coach) Tom Osborne wanted them to talk about daily goals that they controlled as opposed to outcome goals that are sometimes out of your control, like wins and championships,” Conrad said. “The idea is we worry about handling our business every day and the wins will come.”
The Jayhawks can appreciate focusing on the process and goals within their control as opposed to game outcomes.
Schneider has targeted opponent-specific goals for his Jayhawks.
Texas Tech averages 14.6 offensive rebounds a game, yet the Jayhawks kept the Red Raiders to six on Jan. 30 in Lubbock, Texas.
Iowa State averages 6.6 three-pointers a game but was held to 2-for-13 shooting behind the arc on Feb. 2 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Now the Jayhawks hope wins will follow.
During their current losing streak, Kansas has put together successful stretches against Big 12 foes.
The Jayhawks held a 10-point halftime lead over Iowa State before losing by 10 points.
“That’s kind of been our Achilles heel — we’ve put together some good halves and some good quarters but haven’t been able to do it an entire ballgame,” Schneider said.
Schneider points to the team’s high turnover rate, 18 per game with a minus-2 margin, as a big reason games get away from them.
“We consistently have not taken good enough care of the basketball,” Schneider said. “We have some teams in our league that are exceptional in transition. You turn the ball over against the Baylors and Texases and the West Virginias who are extremely athletic and very good in transition, that’s going to be a real problem.”
O’Neal — who played one game for KU last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury and spending the rest of the year as a medical red shirt — says this is a product of the players rushing at times. She thinks the team needs to calm down and relax. At the same time, the team must remain aggressive.
“We came out (against Iowa State) with an intensive energy on defense; we’re getting stops,” she said. “I think during halftime we felt like, ‘Oh, we got this,’ and kind of let up. We have to find something within us that can motivate us. It’s something that we have to take pride in.”
O’Neal says if they take pride in the process, the Jayhawks’ effort will eventually show in the product. The product will be removing the zero from their Big 12 win column and giving Schneider his first victory in conference play at KU.
“I think if (the first Big 12 win) happens, and whenever it happens, I think it’s just going to be a little bit of validation in the fact that our guys have continued to work really hard and continued to prepare the same for each and every game,” Schneider said.
The Jayhawks will host TCU (13-11, 5-8) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.