LAWRENCE — Team meetings are rarely called when the operation is running smoothly.
Eleven games into the season, Kansas coach Bill Self believes his team should be better, so much so that upon the players' return from a Christmas break, he gathered the fellas for a bit of inspiration after the team's practice.
"The thing is, I like our guys, and they know I like them," Self said. "But I can't coach them and let things I feel go unsaid."
And what Self said went along these lines: This group needs to play hard every minute of every game. Previous Kansas teams were more talented and might survive an off night, even a few bad possessions. Not this team, which at 8-3 has matched its loss total for each of the previous two seasons.
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"We've shown that when we bring it, we're talented enough to beat anybody," Self said. "If we don't we get average pretty fast."
The longer Self spoke, the more apparent it was that the Davidson loss had not be cleansed from the soul.
Kansas fell 80-74 at Sprint Center on Dec. 19, and Self didn't hide his admiration for the Wildcats. He thought this Davidson team compared favorably to the squad KU beat by two in the 2008 regional finale, minus then-star Stephen Curry.
But the turnovers, defensive lapses and other gaffes by his squad stuck with Self, even after the Jayhawks won at Southern California three nights later. Bring that Davidson effort to Big 12 play, which begins with a visit from Kansas State on Wednesday, and Kansas won't have much of a shot at its eighth straight league championship.
Self finished his talk and he and the other coaches left. The players remained.
"We stayed for about 20 minutes and just talked," senior guard Tyshawn Taylor said.
The experienced players — Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Conner Teahan — were the primary sources. Their previous teams have never not won the Big 12 regular-season title and have gone 68-6 overall the previous two seasons.
"We're all just trying to figure out what the problem is," Robinson said.
Robinson said that with the exception of Kansas' victory over Ohio State, the team hasn't played well since the Maui Invitational in November.
"We haven't played the same way," Robinson said. "But I think we're starting to get on track."
Kansas has two home games before conference play — tonight against Howard and on Saturday against North Dakota — and post-Christmas practices have been more intense with the addition of a couple of new participants.
Freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who are ineligible for the season for academic reasons, were not permitted to participate in any team activities, including practice, for the first semester. They've been working out with the team since about mid-December.
"The level of competition shot out of the roof," junior guard Elijah Johnson said.
Which is the way Kansas must approach every possession, Self said, to battle in a Big 12 that starts one week earlier and endures two games longer than in past years because of the full round-robin schedule for 10 teams.
"It's going to be a longer grind," Self said. "This will be our springboard going forward as far as getting better."