If you happen to tune in to a Kansas basketball game at just the right time, you might see the Jayhawks playing like world beaters.
From about 2:30 until 3 on Saturday afternoon at the Sprint Center was one of those times.
After falling behind Utah 12-6, the Jayhawks went on a 33-7 run to take a 39-19 lead. They made a bunch of shots, including five of eight three-pointers. KU’s defense was stifling, limiting the 13th-ranked Utes to difficult shots that had little chance of going in.
It was an impressive display, the kind that makes you wonder just what this Kansas team is capable of.
But that was then. And the game from about 3:15 until 3:45 looked completely different.
KU went cold. As cold as an Arctic expedition on the most-frigid Arctic day.
Utah chipped away at the Kansas lead and eventually took a 55-53 lead with 4:37 remaining. Kansas was in the midst of scoring 11 points in about 17 minutes.
But thanks to a strong final four minutes, the Jayhawks escaped with a 63-60 win thanks to some clutch free-throw shooting, stifling defense and one of those stretches of Good KU.
Bad KU is ugly, very ugly. And right now, Kansas coach Bill Self is having a difficult time locking Bad KU out of the gym.
That the Jayhawks are 8-1 with this terrible force hanging around is testament to the team’s will. Or luck. Or some of both.
“Yeah, these kind of momentum swings we have, it’s not good for coaches,” Self said. “I will say this about our team – we can screw up a good time about as well as anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Basketball is a game of momentum. You see how it switches in almost every game. But for the momentum pendulum to swing this wildly is eventually going to catch up to the Jayhawks.
“We’ve been a team that’s really labored and not played very well, and then we’ve been a team that when we play well, we look pretty good,” Self said. “In (the Big 12), and our league is pretty good, you have scoring droughts of five or six minutes and the game is over. And Utah would finish high in our league, so I’m not taking anything away from Utah.”
The Utes are good. But they’re daubers were down in the first half, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said, because of an inability to make shots (9 of 26). He said that created a defensive void, too, and the game got away.
Utah, though, was somehow able to retrieve it. Bad KU reappeared and the Utes, who handed Wichita State its only regular-season loss of the season 10 days ago in Salt Lake City, are good enough to come back from a huge deficit.
“Momentum is a big thing,” Krystkowiak said.
The Wichita State-Utah game had some crazy swings, too. That’s basketball.
Kansas, though, has put the Tum in momentum. Indigestion is a frequent malady with a team that lives close to the edge.
The Jayhawks took control of the game late thanks to defensive pressure, not by making shots. Kansas had only one field goal – a Perry Ellis runner with 1:50 to play that gave KU a two-point lead – in the final 9:09. KU did make eight straight clutch free throws down the stretch, though.
The Jayhawks turned what looked like an easy win into a potential loss and back into a win again.
“We have to eliminate our mental mistakes because we can’t just outscore folks the way some of our teams have,” Self said. “At least we haven’t yet. We’re a team in progress. I think we’re going to be a good team – I think we’re a good team now. Hey, Utah is good. They would finish high in our conference. But we have to tighten some things up and guys got to come ready to play. And right now, we’re not getting enough of that.”
Meanwhile, Utah played Wichita State and Kansas within 10 days. Since Wichita State and Kansas are apparently never going to meet one another on a basketball court ever again, perhaps Krystkowiak’s perspective of the two is the best we’re going to do.
Krystkowiak said Wichita State is “a well-oiled machine,” thanks to its three veterans in the backcourt – Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton.
“Those guys have been there a long time,” he said.
Kansas, he said, is going through more growing pains because of its young team and an injury to back-up point guard, freshman Devonte’ Graham, who will be out for at least several weeks with an injured toe.
Splitting with the two highly-ranked teams from Kansas isn’t bad. Playing them so close together, though, could be questioned.
“It wasn’t by design that we played them both,” Krystkowiak said. “I doubt that anybody in their right mind would want anything to do with that.”