In the final minutes, Wayne Selden was sprawled on the floor, screaming for a timeout. Bodies were flying toward the Kansas bench. Perry Ellis first, then Selden. And in the midst of a mad scramble, Selden had dived toward the sideline, just a few strides from the feet of KU coach Bill Self.
“Timeout!” yelled Selden, the Kansas freshman guard.
It was just one moment, the kind of hustle play that Self expects every night. But here inside Lloyd Noble Center on Wednesday, with No. 18 Kansas clinging to a lead against Oklahoma in its Big 12 opener, it was just the kind of moment the Jayhawks needed.
The night before, Self had met with his team at its Oklahoma hotel to go over preparations for their Big 12 Conference opener. Earlier in the evening, Self had watched Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft fearlessly throw his body on the floor against Michigan State, saving a possession. So Self cued up the highlight and showed his team. Over and over.
“Thirty times,” Self said.
On Wednesday, on the next possession after that timeout, KU junior guard Naadir Tharpe hit a three-pointer that stretched a four-point lead to seven with 5:51 left.
Selden hadn’t just made a timely hustle play. He had made a winning play, the kind that carried the Jayhawks to a 90-83 victory over Oklahoma here on Wednesday night.
“That’s just Kansas basketball,” Selden said. “That’s what I think.”
Said Self: “We’ve been playing handcuffed and haven’t been able to let it go. That was some guys letting it go tonight.”
Letting it go. Kansas, 10-4, had to do a lot of that this week. Just three days after suffering their fourth loss of the season to San Diego State, the Jayhawks opened conference season with a victory for the 23rd straight time, earning their first true road win of the season.
Selden finished with a career-high 24 points, shaking off a season full of inconsistency and a head full of doubt. Tharpe helped the Jayhawks close out Oklahoma with 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis finished with 22 points on six-of-eight shooting.
For Kansas, which was beginning its quest for a 10th straight Big 12 title, it was more than a confidence-building road victory. It was closer to a reset. Self had stopped his team for a moment this week, hoping to deliver an important message. Forget what happened during a frustrating non-conference season.
He also told Selden he needed more offense. Here was a freshman that had arrived as a McDonald’s All-American combo guard with much promise. And in 13 games, he was averaging just 8.5 points while making just 12 of 32 from three-point range.
“That’s not enough,” Self said. “I told all our guys: ‘New stats, new season.’ We won’t even talk about stats from the (nonconference) season.”
So here it was: One game after shooting a season-low 29.8 percent against San Diego State, KU responded with an efficient 54.7 percent shooting against Oklahoma.
In all, you couldn’t blame Self if he simply wanted a victory by any means necessary. For the first time in five years, Kansas had entered Big 12 play with at least four losses. And for a program with nine home losses in the last 11 seasons, any setback in Allen Fieldhouse can induce some soul-searching.
“Losing at home,” Tharpe said, “that’s something that we don’t do.”
The Jayhawks closed better against Oklahoma, but Self also made a couple of key moves in the first half, a blend of power and finesse. He picked up a technical late in the half, a move that precipitated an 11-1 run, and KU took a 50-44 lead at the break.
Self also inserted freshman guard Conner Frankamp into the game after Tharpe had picked up three fouls in the first half.
Frankamp had played just six total minutes in KU’s previous five games, but he responded by hitting a three-pointer and long jumper in the final minutes of the first half.
In the locker room at halftime, Tharpe found his coach. Stick with Conner for a while, Tharpe said, give him some confidence.
The move worked. In its Big 12 opener, with a stretch of four games against four ranked teams looming, the Jayhawks found some confidence.
“Everything is fresh and new from this point forward,” Self said. “And I think it kind of gave them a little bit of a new life.”