The Day After: Almost at Oklahoma
Whether you want to talk about the defensive breakdown in the final seconds or the fact that a short-handed KU team nearly walked out of Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday with a surprising victory, the so-called meaningless final game of the regular season gave us plenty of material.
The Jayhawks clearly are and should be proud of the effort they put forth without Perry Ellis (knee), Cliff Alexander (eligibility) and Brannen Greene (suspension), three regular rotation guys who missed the game. But one of the best signs for this up-and-down KU team was that no one walked out of there feeling too good about the moral victory.
Landen Lucas and Frank Mason, who both played fantastic games, focused on the bottom line — a loss — and Bill Self said he was pleased with the team's effort but not as pleased with its execution.
In many ways, that's a best case scenario right now. Had KU won, some of those execution breakdowns might have been easier to overlook or, at the very least, might not have had the same impact. Instead, the Jayhawks lost and came away from the game hellbent on tightening those areas up instead of feeling too good about coming oh-so-close in difficult circumstances.
That's the kind of adversity that tends to pop up from here on out, and this team, at least to me, seems as focused as it's been all season.
It remains to be seen how well the Jayhawks will play this postseason, but you can't question the fact that they're ready. The past three games — two victories and one loss — have all resembled Big 12 or NCAA Tournament games, with both teams fighting and scrapping for every possession, point or advantage they could get. The two victories were at home and the Jayhawks won't have that advantage the rest of the way. But Sprint Center is close to home and their showing at Oklahoma, without three regulars, has to at least be a little encouraging when they think about playing away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You can't say enough good things about what Landen Lucas did on Saturday. He was a monster on the glass, he played tough on both ends of the floor and, seemingly out of nowhere, even gave KU an offensive presence in the post that was missing with Ellis out. Lucas' confidence and production are rising to new heights every time out, which can only help this team in the win-or-go-home weeks ahead. Lucas played a team-high 33 minutes in the loss to OU and showed, as long as he continues to play like that, that he can give productive minutes not just fill in as a stop-gap option.
2 – KU's offensive rebounding was insane... at least early. The Jayhawks grabbed 16 offensive boards total in this one and had 14 of them by late in the first half. Landen Lucas grabbed six offensive boards by himself and Kelly Oubre (3) and Hunter Mickelson (2) also chipped in to give KU multiple extra possessions. OU coach Lon Kruger tweaked his rebounding match-ups in the second half, which emphasized big guys blocking out instead of helping on the drives of KU's guards, and that kept Kansas from adding to its total. Still, had the Jayhawks not done that kind of work on the glass, they probably would've been down double figures at halftime instead of just two.
3 – Even though he wound up getting the game-winning tip-in, KU's guards did a good job of making OU junior Buddy Hield work for his 18 points. Hield shot just 6-of-20 from the floor and even though Wayne Selden did next to nothing offensively, his work, in limited time, guarding Hield was very valuable. Every shot Hiled took was contested — he was 2-of-7 from three-point range — and he only got to the free throw line five times, making four. If there was an issue here, it was the fact that Hield got seven boards, one of which won the game.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Brannen Greene's last-minute suspension is a real problem. Not only did it hurt KU's chances on Saturday — Greene likely would've gotten most if not all of the 13 minutes Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played and given his experience may have knocked down an extra shot or two that Svi missed, which could have changed the outcome — but it's also a recurring problem. Self suspended Greene for “just being irresponsible,” and every time the guy has been in trouble during his two years at KU so far, that has been the basic reason behind it.
2 – Those who want to will blame the ankle injury, and that's a legit excuse especially when you consider it limited him to just 18 minutes, but Wayne Selden's confidence has to be a concern right now. He missed all seven shots he took, including a pair from behind the arc, and did not score a point or grab a rebound. There are enough other options, especially when Ellis returns, for this team to overcome Selden's struggles, but one can't help but wonder what it would look like if he were clicking.
3 – It's a shame that the Jayhawks' defense on Oklahoma's final possession took away from the fantastic play call and clutch free throws by Frank Mason that tied the game. After watching the replay a few times, several guys were way too passive on that final drive by Jordan Woodard. It's a tough spot to be in because you definitely don't want to foul, but you can't allow a guy to split two defenders and get an open look either. Mykhailiuk came over to challenge the shot after Woodard got by Mason and Oubre and that left Hield all alone to crash the rim for the game-winner. The only good thing to come from the failure to get a stop was that the Jayhawks were absolutely sick about it. That might be what it takes to help get it fixed.
One for the road
KU's loss at Oklahoma in the regular season finale:
• Marked the first time in 10 years that the Jayhawks dropped three-straight regular-season conference road games. In late 2005, KU lost at Texas Tech (80-79, 2OT, 2/14/05), at Oklahoma (71-63, 2/21/05) and at Missouri (72-68, 3/6/05).
• Made Kansas 24-7 overall and 13-5 in Big 12 play, its lowest conference win total since going 13-3 in 2005-06.
• Dropped KU's all-time series lead vs. Oklahoma to 142-66, including 50-42 in Norman.
• Moved Self to 349-76 while at Kansas, 14-5 against Oklahoma (14-3 while at KU) and 556-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,150-829 all-time.
The Jayhawks will head to Kansas City, Missouri, where they'll open play in the Big 12 tournament at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Sprint Center as the top seed against the winner of the Wednesday game between the conference's No. 8 (Kansas State) and No. 9 (TCU) seeds.