LAWRENCE — You can probably be safe in assuming that Kansas coach Bill Self didn’t plan on using three timeouts in the first 10 minutes of the second half on Monday night. But here he was, upset and aggravated, as Kansas struggled to put away a pesky Washburn squad in the second half. So here was another timeout. Another 30 seconds of yelling and coaching.
“Our offense was just miserable,” Self would say afterward.
And you can also be safe in assuming that Self probably wasn’t pleased when KU emerged out of his third timeout with two turnovers in two possessions. So, no, this wasn’t a perfectly scripted tuneup as No. 7 Kansas enters its regular-season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas was never quite able to bury Washburn, instead settling for a 62-50 victory over a Division II team that is favored to win the MIAA this season.
But from another perspective, this looked a lot like November basketball. And in this way, Self had plenty of opportunities to hammer on a few key points.
The Jayhawks finished with 24 turnovers. Self spent most of the second half barking at his players to move and reverse the ball more on offense. And for the second straight exhibition game, senior center Jeff Withey struggled to find his rhythm against an undersized opponent. Withey, who had seven points against Emporia State last week, finished with nine points and eight rebounds after a silent first half. Afterward, Self appeared displeased with Withey’s assertiveness in two exhibition games.
“We gotta get more out of him,” Self said.
So that was the bad. But when it looked good — like Withey blocking a jumpshot and dishing a quick outlet to senior Travis Releford for a dunk late in the second half — you could still squint your eyes and imagine what the Jayhawks will look like with a few more weeks of proper incubation.
“I think this,” Self said. “I told our team there’s going to be some nights this year we don’t play good. We can still win — if you defend and rebound. Now we didn’t rebound at all. They beat us to loose balls and they were tougher than us. But we did defend.”
By most measurements, this was still a pretty messy rough draft. Freshman Ben McLemore finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. But in Self’s eyes, it was an empty offensive performance, with McLemore living on “marginal” jumpers. Elijah Johnson had 13 points and five assists, but added four turnovers and was forced to play 38 minutes.
Johnson is still adjusting to his role as the Jayhawks’ primary ballhandler. And he’s doing it with two wings — Releford and McLemore — who haven’t been asked to handle the ball much in college. That said, Self says KU will need sophomore Naadir Tharpe to step up and be better.
“We’re gonna have to play Naadir some,” Self said. “Which is good, but he had a bad night tonight. But Naadir will be fine to spell some time. And Elijah can’t play that many minutes. But that’s also a great teaching point now. He knows he’s not in shape.”
The first half was a pretty good sketch of a sluggish team working on its chemistry. The Jayhawks committed 11 turnovers and settled for 13 three-pointers.
“I feel like everybody’s just feeling like they gotta make a home run,” Johnson said. “And with that being said, there’s no chemistry out there.”
And early, KU relied on two new faces. Freshman Perry Ellis came off the bench and helped turn a 10-5 deficit into a 19-13 lead. And McLemore drained three early three-pointers while Jayhawks took a 36-24 lead into halftime.
That, obviously, did not sit well with Self. For most of the last month, Self has said that KU’s seniors — Withey, Johnson, Releford — will need to pull the Jayhawks’ freshman along.
“The seniors,” Self said. “What did Jeff and Travis and Elijah do to really help the young guys change it? So it’s not the young guys’ responsibility to go out and change it. It’s the veterans’ responsibility to drag the young guys along, and there was none of that tonight.”
Percentages: FG .258, FT .722. Three-Point Goals: 5-16, .31.3 (Mitchell 2-4, Henry 1-2, Chipman 1-3, North 1-3, NcNeill 0-2, Flowers 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Team Turnovers: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Smith 2, Ulsaker). Turnovers: 18 (Chipman 5, Wiggins 3, Henry 3, McNeill 2, Mitchell 2, Riggins). Steals: 18 (North 4, Chipman 3, Riggins 2, McNeill 2, Mitchell 2, Wiggins 2, Henry, Ulsaker, Flowers).
Percentages: FG .435, FT .647. Three-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Johnson 3-6, McLemore 3-7, Releford 0-1, Tharpe 0-1, White 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 13 (Withey 7, McLemore 2, Ellis 2, Wesley, Adams). Turnovers: 24 (Withey 4, Johnson 4, McLemore 4, Ellis 4, Adams 3, Releford 2, Traylor 2, Wesley). Steals: 11 (Releford 2, Tharpe 2, Traylor 2, Ellis 2, Johnson, McLemore, Adams).
Officials—John Higgins, Kipp Kissinger, Pat Boeh.