Bill Self was fuming. His screams were laced with profanities. His face was red.
The outburst had started suddenly, after a technical foul on his most talented player. But now the anger was persisting. For an entire minute — and then most of another.
“This was an emotional deal,” Self would say.
In Self’s world, most everything has a purpose. Words are crafted. Messages to players are calculated. But late on Friday night, after his top-seeded Jayhawks had beaten No. 5 seed Iowa State 88-73 in the opening semifinal of the Big 12 Tournament, Self stood in a back hallway at the Sprint Center and let the world know a little secret. His first-half tirade was no mad-scientist power play. This was raw emotion, a coach fighting for his players.
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“That was a ‘Mad T,’ ” Self said. “That was a ‘Mad T.’ ”
If the outburst was unintentional, it also happened to be another stroke of genius. It all began with 9:41 left in the first half, when freshman Ben McLemore made a three-pointer from the corner, in front of the Iowa State bench.
After the three, McLemore took a peek at the Iowa State bench and did a couple happy high-steps down the sideline, drawing a technical foul from referee John Higgins.
“All I did was my usual (routine),” said McLemore, who added he didn’t say anything to the Iowa State bench. “(I) hold up three and I just went ‘boom.’ And I was looking at the bench when I did it.”
The call provoked an emotional outburst from Self, who had to be restrained by assistants Norm Roberts and Kurtis Townsend. Iowa State’s Chris Babb made both technical free throws, and play resumed. But Self continued to scream at Higgins for the next minute and a half. And after Iowa State’s Georges Niang made a layup that cut KU’s lead to 20-19 with 7:49 left, the officials had heard enough, hitting Self with a technical.
“I didn’t agree with the technical call on Ben at all, and certainly didn’t agree with the explanation,” said Self, who called himself “an idiot” for his behavior on a postgame TV interview. “But John called it, and I should live with it probably more than what I did.”
But something happened after Self’s tirade — something that filtered down to the middle of KU’s bench. Iowa State arrived on Friday night looking for payback, out to prove that KU’s first two victories over the Cyclones were the product of fluke shots and missed calls. No. 7 Kansas, meanwhile, was just looking for confirmation.
And when Self freaked, the Kansas players took notice.
“We were gonna go out and play our heart out for him,” KU senior Travis Releford said.
In a feverish and emotional building, Kansas finished the first half on a small run, taking a 35-31 lead. In the second half, with freshman Perry Ellis leading the way with a career-high 23 points, the Jayhawks took control.
For most of the second half, the Jayhawks had to play without senior forward Kevin Young, who tweaked his ankle twice during the game and headed to the locker room early in the second half for an X-ray. But with Ellis filling in admirably, KU limited Iowa State, the nation’s leader in three-point attempts, to 9 of 33 from three-point range.
“It’s a chess match,” said senior center Jeff Withey, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. “(Coach) thought that they came out with a lot of energy, and he did what he needed to do to get us pumped up.”
By late in the second half, the KU-centric crowd inside the Sprint Center was chanting “Perry, Perry,” and KU fans were preparing for the prospect of a title bout with in-state rival Kansas State at 5 p.m. Saturday.
For KU’s players, the next opponent didn’t matter. On Friday, they had come to prove themselves against Iowa State. Back in January, they had survived the Cyclones on a banked-in three-pointer at Allen Fieldhouse. In the rematch at Hilton Coliseum, they needed a 39-point performance from Elijah Johnson and some controversial calls in the final seconds. This time, they were just better.
“It’s motivating for us,” Withey said, “to be able to go out there, on a neutral floor, and show them we’re Kansas and there are no flukes.”