KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The scene has become all too familiar in recent years: A team from a mid-major conference celebrating a victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, who leave a neutral floor confused by what just happened.
This time, as the final seconds ticked off Davidson's 80-74 victory over No. 12 KU on Monday night, Kansas fired up a barrage of desperation three-pointers in front of a half-empty Sprint Center.
KU's fans had seen enough — and they'd certainly seen this act before. Northern Iowa ended Kansas' dream season in 2010. Virginia Commonwealth stopped the Jayhawks last season one game short of the Final Four.
Lately, Kansas' path to greatness has gone through the Davidsons of the world. Potentially, that can be a gift. But it hasn't been for KU — not since the Jayhawks barely escaped a shocking upset in the Elite Eight in 2008 with a 59-57 victory over these same Wildcats on the way to the national championship.
It would be easy to classify Monday's loss as the same old story, mighty Kansas paying too much attention to the name on the other team's jersey. But KU coach Bill Self noticed a significant difference in this demoralizing defeat.
"I don't know if you take as much from this game as those other games," Self said. "Because this (KU) team's not that good. That wasn't an upset tonight.
"We have to be sharp every night we play. There's not as much margin for error. I don't know if this team is mature enough to understand that we have to play really well to beat the teams that maybe they don't think are our equals, which is total crap. This team was our equal. We knew that coming in, but we certainly didn't play like it tonight."
On Monday night, Kansas could not get over the hump to put away Davidson. The Jayhawks hurt themselves at the free-throw line, making 58 percent (18 of 31), and the Wildcats hit just enough of their threes (11 of 33) to create a disparity with KU, which made 6 of 23.
One exchange sealed the game: Trailing Davidson 66-63, KU's Conner Teahan missed a game-tying three. A few possessions later, with Davidson up 68-65 and the Jayhawks needing a stop, Davidson guard Nick Cochran hit a three in Thomas Robinson's face at the end of the shot clock to give the Wildcats a six-point lead. That shot — and many others like it — rendered a 21-point, 18-rebound performance from Robinson meaningless.
All night, Davidson was the aggressor, and there were plenty of built-in reasons for the Jayhawks to come out flat in this one. Kansas hadn't played in nine days since beating No. 2 Ohio State 78-67 in Allen Fieldhouse in its biggest victory of the young season.
In that victory, KU senior guard Tyshawn Taylor played with a sprained medial collateral ligament and a torn meniscus in his right knee, and he had surgery to repair the meniscus the day after on Dec. 11. After practicing full-speed on Sunday, Self and KU's medical staff determined Taylor was ready to go.
Taylor started on Monday, but it didn't give the Jayhawks much of a boost early. Kansas fell behind 7-0 and later trailed Davidson 26-15, as the Wildcats began the game making five of their first 11 three-pointers thanks to plenty of open looks from deep out of their motion offense. Meanwhile, KU missed its first six threes — including four misses by the streaky Elijah Johnson.
It didn't help that the Jayhawks were not playing this home game in Allen, where they've lost once in the last five seasons. The Sprint Center was packed with crimson and blue, but KU didn't generate much excitement.
If KU was going to turn the tide — especially with Taylor not at full strength — the Jayhawks were going to have to get production out of Johnson, who has had big games against UCLA (23 points) and Ohio State (15 points) but has been very quiet other nights. After the Wildcats took an 11-point lead, Johnson scored eight points before halftime to help KU pull within 33-32 at halftime.
In the second half, the Jayhawks played like a tired team. After forcing 12 Davidson turnovers on nine steals in the first half, KU failed to create one turnover in the second half. Davidson, led by Cochran's 21 points, got the looks it wanted and made Robinson earn everything he got.
"As poorly as we played," Self said, "and certainly we didn't get stops when we needed to, if we make our free throws at a better percentage and don't go three of 20 (from three) when the game is on the line, the outcome possibly would have been different. But they controlled the game. They whipped us."