In the final minutes of Kansas’ 87-60 victory over Rider, Wayne Selden jogged to the sideline and headed straight for the water cooler at the end of the Jayhawks’ bench. He poured a cup of water, leaned against a Gatorade rack, and sucked in a couple of deep breaths as his eyes gazed back toward the playing floor at Allen Fieldhouse.
At that moment in time, with 3:59 left on the clock, Selden had zero points while missing all four of his shots from the floor. And yet, if you said his performance on Monday night was beautiful, you wouldn’t have been far off.
Selden, a sophomore guard, finished with a career-high nine assists in 28 minutes, jump-starting an offense that had slumbered through it first two games this season. Six days A.K. — make that “After Kentucky” — the Jayhawks returned to the comfortable confines of Allen Fieldhouse and tried to vanquish the remaining demons from a 32-point loss at the Champions Classic.
They mostly succeeded.
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“I just found the open man,” Selden said.
Six days after the worst offensive performance of the Bill Self era — 40 points on 19.6 percent shooting — the Jayhawks shot 59.6 percent and buried a season-high six three-pointers. Junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore wing Brannen Greene finished with a team-high 17 points apiece. And Kansas finished the night with a season-high 22 assists, surpassing its season total of 15, compiled during a choppy opening week.
On Monday, Selden took it on his shoulders to be a facilitator. In the practices leading up to Monday’s game, he did the same. During the season’s opening weeks, Self has groused about young players that don’t understand the little details of offense — like proper spacing, angles and screens.
When the ball tipped against Rider, Selden wanted to set an example.
“He was more so trying to make a statement,” Greene said. “(He was saying) ‘I don’t have to score; get rid of the ball; pass it.’ As you can see, he made a number of very good passes. But that’s the result of us running our offense right, too.”
Selden mostly agreed with Greene’s conclusion. But he is still just a sophomore — a perimeter player who all but disappeared in the debacle against Kentucky. For Selden, who spent most of last season as a complementary player to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, this opening month has been a process.
“I’m just trying to figure out the right way to play the game,” Selden conceded. “I’m still young, too, so I can’t really say I know it all, because I don’t. But I’m still trying to figure it out and show everybody. We’re trying to learn together.”
Six days ago, the Jayhawks were humbled — maybe even humiliated. On Monday, they began a stretch of four games in seven days with a decisive victory. The Jayhawks will now travel to the Orlando Classic for three games in four days. They open the tournament against Rhode Island on Thursday.
For Self and Kansas, the next week will provide game reps for a young team. On Monday, freshman power forward Cliff Alexander (10 points) came off the bench and was a perfect four of four from the field, while freshman wing Svi Mykhailiuk dropped 10 points while making his first career start. But too often, Self says, his team still looks young.
“The most talented guys don’t give your team the best chance to win,” Self said. “The guys that play the best together give your team the best chance to win. And we got a lot of talented guys, and if we can just buy into it — and if we can just hunker down and tighten a few things up — I feel like this can be a really fun team to watch and coach. But everybody has got to be on the same page, though.”
If one is going to compare Kansas’ offensive performance against Rider to the one against Kentucky, you will certainly find some rather stark contrasts. The offensive numbers were so anemic against Kentucky that anything would have looked better on Monday. But the Jayhawks’ first half offered some promise.
The Jayhawks shot 66.7 percent while building a 51-22 lead, and Alexander and Mykhailiuk both contributed moments to build on. Still, in the moments after the game, Self slipped into a long speech about priorities and mindset.
“Back when we won some really big games over the 11 years prior to this one,” Self said, “guys would get the stat sheet and the first thing they look at is: ‘Gosh, my guy had 13? He only had four at the half.’
“That’s the mindset we got to get if we’re going to be a really good team. And I don’t feel that yet.”
On Monday, the Jayhawks stepped back out on the floor and tried to move on from a blowout. To a degree, they succeeded. But Selden wasn’t fully satisfied.
“It’s hard,” Selden said. “It’s still not really fully behind us, but we’re just still trying to get better. We know we got to get better than we were.”