Landen Lucas was helpless.
The game was out of his team’s control. Kansas State’s Dean Wade had an open three to win it, and from the top of the key, the Kansas center had a front row seat to his team’s fate.
“I was just watching it, hoping it didn’t go in,” Lucas said. “That’s not a position you want to be in.”
You know how this all turned out. Wade’s shot missed, and later, Svi Mykhailuk took three steps (or more) to put in a game-winning layup in KU’s 90-88 victory over Kansas State.
The main discussion tomorrow will be “The Travel,” but if KU fans are honest with themselves, they should be more concerned with the previous play when trying to envision the ceiling of this team.
K-State called timeout with 20 seconds left and a tie game, and Self told his players in the huddle to switch on all ball screens. (Though this isn’t something KU does often, it was made possible by D.J. Johnson’s foulout because Frank Mason at worst would get switched onto Wade, who isn’t an overpowering player inside).
Self said last week that his best teams have always been ones that wanted to play defense at game point. This was a perfect opportunity for this team to show it could focus in with the game on the line.
That didn’t happen.
Wade came up to set a ball screen for teammate Wesley Iwundu. Lucas did as he was supposed to and picked up Iwundu.
That would have been fine if Jackson did his job, except that he stuck with Iwundu as well. That left an easy pass to Wade at the top of the circle.
“I was definitely supposed to switch,” Jackson said. “That was my fault.”
Wade — a 39-percent three-point shooter up to that point — missed off the front iron.
When asked what he saw from his team’s defense on that play, Self said “nothing.”
“We’re switching ball screens, and one guy didn’t switch,” Self said. “That’s the kind of mental mistakes you make … we lived on borrowed time tonight and got away with it.”
This has become a different kind of challenge for Self, and he admitted after the game that this is the worst defensive team he’s had in 14 seasons at KU despite the fact that his roster is filled with quick guards.
The numbers back up Self’s assertion. KU dropped to 26th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency measure, with his previous-worst coming in the 2013-14 season when the Jayhawks finished 22nd.
K-State’s 1.22 points per possession also was the 10th-highest total allowed by KU in Self’s 482 games at the school.
“Pride would probably be a concern. Toughness would be a concern,” Self said. “You know, the thing about it is, defense is like offense. You don’t just practice one day or two days and get better. It’s something that you’ve got to have some pride to want to get better.”
KU is 2-0 in the Big 12, though, and one can bet that the defensive-minded Self won’t rest until he gets his team’s issues on that end figured out.
In fact, he didn’t even let Jackson leave the postgame locker room without talking to him about his gaffe in the final seconds.
So what did Self tell him?
“I can’t say it,” Jackson said, smiling while insinuating the words weren’t fit for publication.
Mykhailiuk might have had the game-winner. But KU owed its victory to something else as well Tuesday: a word used by Lucas, Jackson and Self when talking about the team on its last defensive possession.
“We know we’ve got to get better,” Lucas said, “to not put ourself in that kind of position.”