University of Kansas

February 8, 2013

Kansas tries to remember what winning felt like

They talked it out the old way. In the locker room. Everybody getting a chance to speak. A team meeting in the most traditional sense.

They talked it out the old way. In the locker room. Everybody getting a chance to speak. A team meeting in the most traditional sense.

“Everybody got a little say-so,” freshman guard Ben McLemore said.

The Kansas Jayhawks had decided to meet on Thursday, just a day after they left TCU with a humiliating defeat. They had become the first Kansas team to lose two consecutive games in seven years — an amazing feat, of course — but also one that made the past week all the more jarring. So on Thursday, as the unpleasant highlights beamed across the country, and college basketball’s talking heads wondered if this was the biggest upset in decades, the Jayhawks bonded together for an impromptu meeting and video session.

A day later, McLemore could hardly remember what was said. It was mostly about little things. The seniors said they’d been in this position before — or something close. And McLemore, KU’s leading scorer, told his teammates he wanted to take on a larger leadership role.

“I just said I gotta help more, create little things for myself and for my teammates,” McLemore said, “and just try to be out there and be a leader, too. Playing out there with four seniors, I can also be out there and be a leader.”

The Jayhawks also watched old clips from their victories over Colorado and Ohio State earlier this season. Maybe that was the most important thing. After five days of negative feelings and waning confidence, Kansas just wanted to remember what it felt like back in December, when the offense was motoring and the team couldn’t lose.

“We just had a lot of energy, and we were having fun out there,” McLemore said. “And we’ve seen what we can do. We see what we are, and we just gotta keep playing Kansas ball.”

On Friday, after a day of digesting the TCU loss, coach Bill Self said his team wasn’t all that far from what it was during its 18-game winning streak. Back in January, Self liked to say that his team wasn’t as good as its record showed. So maybe now, they Jayhawks aren’t quite as bad, either.

“What’d we go, 80 days in a row without losing a game?” Self said. “And all of a sudden now in five days the sky is falling? I’m not quite buying into that theory at all.”

The Jayhawks do have flaws, of course. And nearly all of them were magnified Wednesday night. The Jayhawks couldn’t score. Couldn’t shoot. Couldn’t do much of anything that resembled offense.

But on Friday, Self said there were no major overhauls on the horizon, no wholesale changes. It’s certainly not the best time to do that, either, with a crucial Big 12 stretch days away. It starts with a road game against Oklahoma at 3 p.m. Saturday, and continues two days later with a Big Monday matchup against Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.

“It’s not broken,” Self said, before later adding, “If you should put it on anybody, you should put it on the head coach.”

So now Kansas moves forward, tied atop the Big 12 standings with in-state rival K-State. It’s a new feeling in Lawrence. But the Jayhawks will have to cope. While the two-game slide was certainly unforeseen, it partially fits with the larger narrative about a turbulent college basketball landscape.

“This is what people, I think, have underestimated about college basketball this season,” Self said. “There’s not a great dominant team, or more than one great dominant team. But there’s a whole bunch of really, really, really good teams. And even really good teams can get upset.”

For now, KU may have to play better to stay in the realm of “really, really good.” But Self believes that can still be his team’s ceiling, even if the Jayhawks’ confidence was tested on Wednesday.

“Maybe a little shaken, just to tell it like it is,” Self said of his team’s state of mind. “But when everybody, in all sports, when you have a bad game, then it can get that way.”

If anything, the last couple days have provided an opportunity for some reflection. Last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State failed to provide the proper wake-up call, and the Jayhawks went down hard at TCU. Now they get another opportunity to reclaim their old ways.

“This is still the same team that was ranked No. 2 in the country six days ago,” Self said. “If our confidence is shaken, then we’re not very tough.”

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