Nearly an hour after Kansas’ first conference loss, Bill Self chomped down on a piece of beef jerky and moved up a ramp inside the Erwin Center.
The jerky was a gift from Texas coach Rick Barnes, some consolation prize after No. 25 Texas had finished a convincing and thorough 81-69 victory over his sixth-ranked Jayhawks.
But as Self chewed on a piece of jerky, he attempted to keep some perspective. For the third straight season, Kansas had started 7-0 in Big 12 play and then fallen flat. For the first time in nearly a month, the Jayhawks were exposed, looking tired and slow for stretches against a bouncy and active Texas squad.
Self didn’t have a great explanation for his team’s lackluster performance. Just simple math, he would say, the law of averages playing out on a basketball floor in Austin.
“I think that’s sports,” Self said. “I don’t think that you can say that every game a team is going to come out and play a certain way.”
For seven Big 12 victories, Kansas had shot 54 percent from the floor. On Saturday, the Jayhawks shot just 38.5 percent.
For seven games, KU had outrebounded Big 12 opponents by nearly 10 boards per game. On Saturday, Texas’ post men Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes outmuscled the Jayhawks in the paint, paving the way for Texas’ 44-37 advantage on the boards.
For seven games, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins had averaged 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. On Saturday, Wiggins was just two of 12 from the field, finishing with seven points before fouling out with 2:36 left.
“The law of percentages will prevail eventually,” Self said. “The way you win on the road is to make sure your opponent plays bad, and I think that we did not have the (right) mind-set.”
Maybe it was too early to crown the Jayhawks as definite Big 12 champions and Final Four contenders. But for the moment, nothing about Saturday’s loss suggests Kansas, 16-5 overall and 7-1 in the Big 12, is any kind of fraud, either. The Jayhawks went on the road and lost to the second-place team in the Big 12.
“We know it’s a long season,” said KU freshman guard Wayne Selden, who had a team-high 21 points. “We know we got to keep pushing forward, and we know there are going to be bumps in the road. So we’re just going to get back to Lawrence and regroup.”
Over and over, they kept saying the same thing: It was just one of those days.
“It happens,” KU sophomore forward Perry Ellis said.
Some of this was calculated, of course. Last year, Kansas was 7-0 before getting nicked at home against Oklahoma State. That loss led to a three-game tailspin.
“I feel like dudes want to change it,” said junior guard Naadir Tharpe, who had three points while taking just four shots. “They’re not going to want this to happen again.”
For the moment, Kansas is still in the pole position in the Big 12. Texas, 17-4 and 6-2, climbed within a game of first place, but the Longhorns still have to make a return trip to Allen Fieldhouse. Nearly midway through the conference race, Self said he expects all the contenders could suffer a few more setbacks while navigating the Big 12 minefield.
“I said 14-4 would win it,” Self said. “And I’m not sure I’m going to be far off.”
“Sometimes, it happens” can be a worthwhile explanation, but Saturday’s loss did raise a few concerns. Texas freshman guard Isaiah Taylor torched Kansas for 23 points while getting into the lane at will. The Longhorns blocked 12 shots. And facing another strong frontcourt, Wiggins and freshman center Joel Embiid combined for just 15 points on five-of-21 shooting.
“Their big guys played much bigger than our big guys played,” Self said. “It was pretty much a dominating performance.”
That it was. Texas took a 38-23 lead at halftime after controlling the offensive glass in the opening minutes, and the Longhorns were never really challenged in the second half. When Ridley threw down a two-handed jam on Embiid in the opening stretch of the second half, the Longhorns pushed the lead to 47-27.
Earlier this month, KU became the first team since 1997 to beat ranked teams in four straight games. Just a few weeks later, Texas had matched the feat with KU in the building. Maybe this loss was coming, but for Kansas, it did feel a little like cold water in the face.
The “Overrated” chants echoed through the sell-out crowd of 16,540 inside the Erwin Center. For an afternoon, Kansas’ group of future pros looked mortal. And the Jayhawks will be left to refocus against Baylor on Tuesday night in Waco, Texas.
“I felt like Texas was the hungrier team,” Self said. “And that’s not being negative to my guys. Because when they come to our place, we better be the hungrier team.”