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Kansas’ Self takes different approach to first conference loss

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, at 2:26 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 7:11 a.m.

Photos

No. 8 Kansas at Baylor

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Ferrell Center, Waco Texas

Records: KU 16-5, 7-1 Big 12; BU 14-7, 2-6

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: ESPN2

No. 8 Kansas at Baylor

PKansasHt.Yr.PtsReb
FPerry Ellis6-8So.13.16.6
CJoel Embiid7-0Fr.11.27.7
GAndrew Wiggins6-8Fr.16.06.0
GWayne Selden6-5Fr.10.52.6
GNaadir Tharpe5-11Jr.8.92.6

PBaylorHt.Yr.PtsReb
FCory Jefferson6-9Sr.12.58.4
FRoyce O’Neale6-6Jr.11.33.7
CIsaiah Austin7-1So.10.25.5
GBrady Heslip6-2Sr.11.71.0
GKenny Chery5-11Jr.11.02.2

Kansas ( 16-5, 7-1 Big 12): The Jayhawks return to the Lone Star State three days after suffering their first Big 12 loss in a lackluster performance at Texas. Kansas will attempt to regroup against a Baylor team that fell 78-68 at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year. Wiggins was 2 of 12 at Texas. He had 17 points and seven rebounds during the first game against Baylor, and he did most of his damage at the free-throw line, making 10 of 12. KU coach Bill Self said Wiggins settled for jumpers too much against Texas; could that spur Wiggins to drive more against Baylor? Embiid was also quiet against Texas, finishing with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. Sophomore forward Jamari Traylor is 23 for 30 (76.7 percent) from the field in his last 14 games. After its road game at Baylor, Kansas returns home to face West Virginia on Saturday before traveling to Kansas State for a Big Monday matchup.

Baylor (14-7, 2-6): After a frustrating 1-6 start in the Big 12, Baylor broke through with a stunning upset victory at Oklahoma State on Saturday. The performance was even more surprising considering Chery missed the game because of a foot injury. Senior guard Gary Franklin had 11 points while starting in place of Chery, who could be limited against Kansas. Senior guard Brady Heslip had six three-pointers in BU’s loss at KU on Jan. 20. Heslip is shooting 47 percent from three-point range and has made 27 of 58 during Big 12 play. This is still the same Baylor team that notched victories over Colorado and Kentucky during the nonconference season. Baylor has also won two of its last four against KU, including an 81-58 beatdown last season in Waco.

RPIs as of Monday: KU 1, BU 55.

One year later, Bill Self knows it was a mistake.

It was last February, in the moments after Kansas’ loss to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse, and Self had slipped into Rip Mode during his postgame news conference. He groused about not having a point guard. He called his players soft. In the span of nearly 10 minutes, his frustration turned into an honest evisceration of his veteran-laden team.

So when the Oklahoma State defeat dovetailed into a three-game losing spell, Self did a little soul-searching. The Jayhawks had started 7-0 in the conference before losing that game to Oklahoma State. Maybe he had overreacted.

“If I learned anything, it would be it’s a long season, and not to make too much out of a loss,” Self said. “Because we weren’t going to run the table. We lost to the second-place team in our league.”

These words came on Saturday evening, as Self and his Jayhawks prepared to get on the bus after a 81-69 loss at Texas. Once again, KU had started 7-0 in the Big 12 before losing. This time, Self took an almost optimistic posture.

“I’m not leaving out of here happy by any stretch,” Self said. “But it’s more important to get ready for Baylor than it is to dwell on this one, and I probably didn’t do that last year.”

Business as usual. That was the message. That was also the script on a baseball cap worn by junior guard Naadir Tharpe, although that appeared to be coincidence. KU had lost on the road, and sometimes that happens. Now the Jayhawks try to dust themselves off before heading to Baylor (14-7, 2-6 Big 12).

“It’s certainly not the end of earth,” Self said, repeating a message he told his players Saturday. “What you do is, you put yourself in a position where there’s less margin for error. But everything is still possible.”

For Kansas, that means winning a 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title and earning a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks (16-5, 7-1) still hold a one-game lead over Texas, a team that still has to play in Lawrence. On Tuesday, Kansas will look to get back on track against a Baylor squad that recorded a surprising upset at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

And really, Self says, securing a Big 12 regular-season crown is not supposed to be easy.

“I feel like we’ll just come together,” KU freshmen wing Brannen Greene said. “And we’ll be ever stronger; we know what we got to do.”

The most discussed number in Big 12 basketball circles may be nine — as in nine straight Big 12 titles for Kansas. But as the titles have piled up, the passage of time has a way of obscuring some of the struggles during those seasons.

The Jayhawks have shared four of their nine regular-season titles (2005, 2006, 2008, 2013) and three more were by a one-game margin. This is why Self isn’t necessarily sandbagging when he suggests that the Big 12 race will come down to the final week.

“It’ll come down to the last week,” Self said, before repeating the words for emphasis. “It’ll come down to the last week … Texas has a hard schedule left in front of them, and certainly we do, too.”

Self says he wants his players to know that all their goals are still attainable. But there is one area that could use some midseason renovation.

After Kansas’ loss to Texas, the Jayhawks dropped to 39th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The statistic, which takes into account points allowed per possession, can be a solid predictor of NCAA Tournament success. Six of the last 10 NCAA champions have ranked in the top 10 — and the lowest-ranked champion in the last decade (North Carolina in 2009) was ranked 21st. So as good as Kansas’ offense has been during Big 12 play, the Jayhawks still need to make progress on defense.

That process continued during a light practice Sunday.

“Even though you want to kill them, you can’t,” Self said. “Because we play on Tuesday.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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