ST. LOUIS – Television cameras are almost always an inconvenience for athletes following a difficult loss, but the saving grace for Kansas’ players following a 60-57 defeat against Stanford is that the cameras gave them somewhere to look.
Those players not receiving media attention at any given time had little recourse on an acceptable line of vision, especially since eye contact with each other was too difficult.
So many stared off into space, likely reliving some of the moments that led to a narrow loss in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Others buried heads in their arms, unwilling to immediately face a harsh reality.
Tarik Black, whose foul-out with 5:25 to play eliminated the Jayhawks’ most effective player, probably would have preferred that fate rather than expose his eyes, which hadn’t been completely cleared of tears by the time the locker room opened about 15 minutes after the buzzer.
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“We weren’t being as aggressive as we should have been,” said Black, sniffling through his answers.
Black, who scored 18 points with six rebounds in 26 minutes, was perhaps the only Jayhawks player who was as aggressive as he should have been, if aggressiveness was even KU’s problem.
There was a lot to lament in the locker room after the loss, and KU’s intensity was essentially lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm that forced so many layups to fall hopelessly off the rim.
If so many had gone in, KU probably wins comfortably. If one does, overtime. If two fall through the net, the Jayhawks survive and advance. Besides Conner Frankamp and Black, KU made 9 of 42 shots.
“They missed a lot of easy shots from the start of the game (forward),” KU guard Frank Mason said of usually electrifying scorers such as Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, who combined for 15 points on 5-of-21 shooting. “They couldn’t make the plays we needed them to make.
“…Those easy shots we missed, maybe would have been like 10 points or 15 points. At the end of the game, we wished we would have had those.”
Some Jayhawks were given a respite from reliving the heartbreaking moments that happened during and after the game – at least after answering a few questions about them.
After Wiggins and Selden took their turns claiming responsibility for their own shortcoming and the team’s, they were hounded with questions about their individual futures. Wiggins seems a lock to enter the NBA Draft and to be picked early, but he wasn’t committing to an answer in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss. Neither was Selden, who seems more likely to return.
The leaving-or-staying question was also directed at center Joel Embiid, who said he will make a decision on whether to leave for the NBA in the coming days or weeks after consulting with mentor Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, an NBA player and fellow Cameroon native.
More pressing to Embiid, however, were his absence in Sunday’s game, the guarantee that he won’t play in this year’s tournament and the possibility that he’ll never play in one if he departs for the pros.
“It was pretty hard watching them lose,” Embiid said. “I felt like I could have helped.”
Embiid, at least until the cameras came, was one with his head buried in his arms, more disappointed, he said, about the loss than about not getting a chance to help change the outcome.
“We’re never going to find no one like him,” Wiggins said. “He’s a unique player. There’s no one in the country that can impact the game more than him. But that’s no excuse. I should have stepped up. I should have done more for my team, but I didn’t. It’s on me.”
Those recollections brought Wiggins crashing back to the moment, making him examine his poor performance and celebrate aspects of a season that would have been afterthoughts compared to a deep tournament run.
“We accomplished a lot,” Wiggins said. “Especially a lot of individual honors, with all the awards we got, and winning the Big 12 for the 10th consecutive year. We had a good year.
“I’m just hurt, man.”