It’s over now. Another long winning streak inside Allen Fieldhouse is kaput. Kansas' unforgiving non-conference slate is finally done leaving scars. Bill Self can finally stop rehashing missed opportunities at Florida, or last-second losses against Villanova and Colorado.
This latest KU setback — a 61-57 loss against No. 21 San Diego State on Sunday afternoon — featured none of the last-second deflation … but all of the same frustrating questions. For KU, it was the first non-conference loss at Allen Fieldhouse since 2006, ending a streak of 68 straight victories.
But this was less about the past and more about the future. This Kansas team, armed with the most touted recruiting class in school history and a coach with nine straight Big 12 titles, was supposed to be a worthy torch-bearer in Self’s yearly quest for a Big 12 title ring. Instead, they’ll head into Big 12 play with four losses (the most in the non-conference since 2008-09) and some pressing questions: How good, exactly, is this particular Kansas team? Good enough to win a 10th straight Big 12 title?
“We’re not as good as I thought we’d be, and our players know that,” Self said. “I still think we’re going to be good, but it’s just taken more time than what I thought.
“If I were to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, we’re right where we need to be, or we’re right where I thought we’d be,' then that would be a lie.’ I thought we’d be a little bit tougher.”
On Sunday, No. 16 Kansas was rushed and sped up by San Diego State’s swarming double-teams in the post. The Jayhawks couldn’t grab a defensive rebound when they needed one late. (San Diego State outrebounded KU 51-39, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.) And they couldn’t adjust to a solid game plan from veteran coach Steve Fisher, who was dead set on limiting KU's post scoring. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis was one for eight for four points, while freshman center Joel Embiid (12 points and 12 rebounds) had just five field-goal attempts.
“Our offense was totally inept,” Self said, “in large part because they really guard.”
Kansas shot just 29.8 percent (17 of 57) from the floor, its lowest shooting percentage at Allen Fieldhouse since the stat became official in 1988-89. It was also the second least efficient performance of the Self era. The only one worse: Last year’s loss at TCU, when KU shot 29.5 percent. San Diego State, of course, has proven itself to have one of the best interior defenses in the country. But this was a dreadful output. Before Sunday, Kansas had made 57.5 percent of its shots from inside the arc. On this day, they made just 13 of 41 while hitting four of 16 from three-point range.
“We all missed shots that we usually make,” said freshman swingman Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 14 points on four of 14 shooting. “And that can happen from time to time with a young team.”
And yet, Kansas somehow had an opportunity to complete an 11-point comeback during the game’s final nine minutes. If Ellis had made two free throws with 12 seconds left, KU could have tied the game at 57-57. But Ellis missed the second, and San Diego State iced the game with four free throws and a sound decision to foul freshman Frank Mason with KU down three points in the final seconds.
“I can live with missing shots,” Self said. “I’ve got problems that we can’t close, or that we can’t make the play when we have to make the play.”
Trailing 44-33 with 9:18 left, KU cut the lead to 48-46 with a quick burst of offense — and then climbed within 57-55 on a three-pointer from Mason with 1:21 left. And then things got a bit weird. KU followed a defensive stop with a costly turnover in transition; San Diego State missed the front end of two one-and-ones; and the officials went to the monitor to change a call that would have given KU the ball down two in the final seconds.
“I didn’t think I touched the ball,” said Embiid, who was chasing the rebound near the sideline.
The officials claimed otherwise.
That set up the final stretch, and Self left the Phog with just his ninth loss here in 11 seasons. You may have heard the stat, the one about Self having more league titles than home losses. Now it’s no longer true. And KU must rebound during a imposing Big 12 stretch that begins with a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday. The next two weeks will also include home games against K-State, No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Baylor — and a road game at No. 13 Iowa State on Jan. 13.
“It’s a joke,” Self said.
It's also reality. Maybe by the end, all these setbacks will be seen as teaching moments, lessons that helped KU earn a 10th straight league title. (“We learned a lot that will help us down the road,” Wiggins said.) But the thing about losses, of course, is that they also expose flaws. Right now, KU has those, too.
“The way I see it, we got exactly what we deserved,” Self said. “They were better than us today.”