LUBBOCK, Texas — Kansas coach Bill Self faced his team, carrying with him a long list of toxic stats. It was halftime on Saturday, down inside the bowels of United Spirit Arena, and Self began to recite the numbers.
Texas Tech had grabbed seven offensive rebounds during a muddy first half. The Jayhawks had pulled down five defensive boards. Even worse: KU had five baskets and two assists during the opening 20 minutes. By the sounds of it, Self’s halftime message wasn’t filled with outsized anger or over-the-top theatrics.
“I’ve seen him way worse,” senior center Jeff Withey said.
It was simply a cutting review of Kansas’ performance.
“That’s as miserable as an offensive team can play,” Self said after the game.
There are those that say a Big 12 road win, regardless of the circumstances, is always something to be proud of. Well, KU’s 60-46 victory over Texas Tech stretched the limits of that theory.
The Jayhawks played better in the second half, of course. After leading 27-25 at the intermission, the Jayhawks digested Self’s halftime remarks and pieced together a 14-2 run in the opening minutes of the second half. If the Jayhawks finally found some energy in the second half, so did senior forward Kevin Young, who finished with a team-high 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
All first half, Texas Tech had blanketed Withey inside, leaving Young mostly unguarded. Young didn’t take advantage, Self said, and the KU offense suffered. In the opening minutes of the second half, Young was ready to take advantage, dropping in six points during KU’s game-changing run. The burst included a two-handed reverse slam in transition that brought some life to a half-filled arena.
“Kevin drives me nuts,” Self said. “He drives me nuts, because he can play so good. And at 6-foot-8, he can run and jump and not even contest a shot on a layup … or not even come close to blocking out a guy when his man’s the best offensive rebounder.
“He can do those things, and then when he turns the switch, he does those things great plus a lot more great things.”
Maybe the environment had something to do with the performance. The Jayhawks (14-1, 2-0 Big 12) had brought a 12-game winning streak to west Texas. And here they found themselves playing a rebuilding program with a Big Monday matchup with Baylor just more than 48 hours away.
Perhaps it was only natural that KU would come out slow. But that also meant that Young, KU’s de facto energy guy, needed to provide a spark.
“I think I really needed to do that because we were playing flat in the first half,” Young said. “And it seemed like we were just out there. And I decided to make a change.”
Young’s offense helped make up for a quiet game from freshman guard Ben McLemore, who was coming off his 33-point tour de force in an overtime victory against Iowa State on Wednesday.
Self has made it an emphasis to find ways to plug McLemore into KU’s offense. But on Saturday, in a choppy and ugly contest, few players found an offensive rhythm.
“That’s probably the roughest night he’s had this year, maybe,” Self said. “But there were some other guys that had some rough nights, too.”
Still, Self is a defensive coach at his core. And he, of all coaches, could appreciate a performance like this. The Jayhawks held Texas Tech to 17 baskets and 35.4-percent shooting in the Red Raiders’ own building — numbers that Self definitely liked. If you can win a game like this, he said, that means you’re guarding. Self will live with that.
“They kind of punked us on the glass and being physical,” Self said, “and we had to decided whether … we wanted to be here.”
The focus now turns to Baylor, another team with a perfect Big 12 record, and the team picked to finish second behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings. If Self had his preference, what happens in Lubbock would stay in Lubbock.
“I want them to forget about it,” he said.
This was the last message. After a frustrating day at the office, it was time to move on.
“To me,” Self said, “we looked like a tired team. And so we need to get our batteries recharged for Monday night.”