FORT WORTH — The shock was still fresh, and Bill Self took a seat in front of a microphone. His team had lost. And Self couldn’t quite find the right words.
How do you explain it?
“It was the worst team that Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was there,” Self said.
A winless Big 12 team took down the program and coach that has won eight straight conference titles? A Kansas team that hadn’t lost two straight in seven years has now hit the mat in two straight games?
In a few decades, when they look back at what happened inside TCU’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2013, it probably won’t make much earthly sense. But history will say this: On a Wednesday in Texas, Bill Self took his fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks into TCU’s home gym and left with a 62-55 loss.
It was a stunning scene. Ben McLemore hung his head as the TCU students rushed the court. The Jayhawks were quickly escorted to the locker room. If last Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma State was a sign that something was wrong with Kansas, this performance was another signal that the Jayhawks are a team in search of their soul.
“What’s the right word?” Self said. “Futility? Would that be a word? I don’t know that you could describe it. It was awful.”
KU shot 29.5 percent (18 for 61) from the field and hit 3 of 22 from three-point range. But for most of the night, it felt like they were playing on peach baskets. This was a time-machine portal back to the days when the Jayhawks played a schedule that included treks to the Muscataine YMCA club and each bucket was thought rare enough to have another tip-off.
“I think (Dr. Naismith) had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years. But for the first half, there hasn’t been a team play worse than that.”
The Horned Frogs had led 22-13 at halftime and pushed the lead to 37-21 after the opening stretch of the second half. And the crowd inside the 7,201-seat Daniel-Meyer Coliseum began to sense the moment; that they had stumbled upon something out of Big 12 bizarro-world.
“There’s a lot of great names that have worn this jersey before us,” senior forward Kevin Young said. “And to come out and play like this today, we just embarrassed ourselves and we embarrassed them.”
By the time Kansas trailed 40-30 midway through the second half, the Jayhawks soon went into a frantic full-court press, attempting to push the tempo. The press helped the Jayhawks cut the lead to 44-40 on short jumper from Jeff Withey with 6:50 left. But TCU blunted KU’s momentum with another bucket, and McLemore missed an open three from the corner that would have cut the lead in half.
TCU senior Garlon Green then finished a three-point play that pushed the lead back to 49-40 and served as a back-breaker.
How do you explain this? Suddenly, the Jayhawks are a mystery.
“To be honest with you,” Self said. “If we could start about three guys. We’d probably do that. But they’re gonna make us run five out there. Because I don’t really know who deserves to start.”
Kansas had made 3 of its first 22 shots in the first half, and the Jayhawks’ 13 points in the first half was the lowest of the Self era
And it came against TCU, a first-year member of the Big 12 that had started 0-8 in the conference.
All across the country, collegiate scoring has been on the decline this season. But this was historic ineptness that bordered on too-absurd-to-believe. Consider the context: The Jayhawks were coming off an 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, a setback that served as KU’s first Big 12 loss and snapped an 18-game winning streak.
Self said his team had been humbled. That they had played spoiled. He questioned their toughness. He questioned the guard play. He questioned … well, just about everything.
And for the last seven years, whenever Self said these things after losses, the Jayhawks found a way to respond. Entering Wednesday, KU had not lost consecutive games since dropping back-to-back games against K-State and Missouri in January 2006. That Kansas team featured a freshman named Mario Chalmers. It’s been so long, Chalmers will be back in Lawrence this month to get his jersey retired.
Now the Jayhawks must travel to play Oklahoma on Saturday, their confidence shaken. For years, Self has told his players that they can’t let one loss become two.
“It’s already done that,” Withey said. “Now we just gotta get tough. We gotta go hard in practice, we gotta figure out what’s going wrong.”