There are plenty of natural places to begin after No. 8 Kansas’ 67-62 loss to Oklahoma State, a disappointing setback that included a second-half collapse, a frustrated head coach and another raucous court-storming on the floor of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
But perhaps it’s best to start at halftime, with the scenes from two very different locker rooms. At a few minutes past 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self pushed through a doorway and faced his team. The Jayhawks had built a 41-30 halftime lead. They had drilled seven of nine from three-point range. And they sat just 20 minutes away from a 9-1 start in the Big 12 and a veritable stranglehold on an 11th straight Big 12 title.
And Self, well … he was not really happy at all.
“I didn’t think we were any good the first half,” Self would say later. “We just made shots.”
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In the other locker room, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford stepped in front of his team. All week long, the Cowboys talked about unleashing a full-court press on Kansas. They practiced it, and drilled it, and Oklahoma State senior Le’Bryan Nash had begged his coach to press the heck out of Kansas. Ford, though, remained concerned that pressing too much would leave his thin roster too fatigued against the powerful Jayhawks. By halftime, though, the deficit was now 11. Ford had little choice.
“Forget it,” Nash recalled Ford saying. “Every trip, we’re pressing.”
For Kansas, this loss at Oklahoma State meant a couple of things. The Jayhawks are now 19-4 overall and 8-2 in the Big 12. Self dropped to 3-5 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, the venue where he once suited up for the Cowboys. And while Kansas remains in first place in the Big 12, the lead is now just one game over second-place Iowa State.
But more important, perhaps, is this question: Did Oklahoma State’s relentless pressure offer the rest of the Big 12 a template for how to beat Kansas?
“I don’t think we turned it over a ton because of their pressure,” Self said. “I think it got us out of rhythm some. When we did turn it over, we got passive, and obviously didn’t play very aggressively.”
When Oklahoma State turned up the full-court pressure in the second half, the result was an ugly mix of choppy offense and wasted possessions: The Jayhawks finished with 16 turnovers, including six by junior forward Jamari Traylor and four by sophomore Wayne Selden. They shot just 26.7 percent (eight of 30) after the break. And in the moments after the Cowboys left their locker room, they opened the second half on a 14-1 run that stirred a muted crowd of 10,399 at Gallagher-Iba.
“I think it’s just us,” Selden said, explaining the struggles against the press. “(It was) us getting into our own heads and not taking care of the ball.”
In a small sample size, the Jayhawks have displayed vulnerability against pressure. Kansas nearly collapsed in the final minutes of a road victory at TCU, and it struggled to handle the press in the final stretches of a home victory over Iowa State.
“The biggest thing was just slow down,” Selden said. “They had two fast guards running at us. It was basically just slow down, then advance the ball and attack. And we weren’t doing that.”
The Jayhawks, of course, squandered other opportunities. They failed to capitalize on the fact Oklahoma State’s leading scorer Phil Forte was playing despite flulike symptoms, limited to 13 points and six shots. Kansas made just 10 of 19 from the free-throw line and 11 of 33 from inside the three-point arc. If not for some hot outside shooting by Selden, Brannen Greene and Frank Mason, the offensive numbers might have been even more inefficient.
The Jayhawks still had a last-ditch chance to tie in the final minute, after Nash clanked the front end of a one-and-one with 52 seconds left. Trailing 65-62, Self called a timeout and drew up the “Elevator Door” play for Greene, hoping to get a clean look from three. When Oklahoma State snuffed out the play, Mason drove to the rim and came up empty.
“You can’t look at any individual on our team and say that they had a good game,” Self said. “I mean, we had a couple of guys make some shots, but we didn’t play very well. We didn’t coach them very well. We didn’t do anything very well today.”
As Self prepared to leave Gallagher-Iba, he wanted to say how poorly his team had played, how the second-half rebounding numbers had left him genuinely frustrated. (“We rebounded the ball so soft, he said.) But then he caught himself.
“I shouldn’t do that, so I’m not going to,” Self said. “But we certainly didn’t play the way we have played in prior games, with the energy or the intellect or with paying attention to the scouting report.”
For Self, this was not the team he had grown accustomed to seeing during the first half of conference play. For whatever reason, the Jayhawks were soft and sloppy, and they couldn’t overcome self-inflicted flaws or the Cowboys’ pressure.
So here they are. In two days, the Jayhawks will travel to face Texas Tech on Tuesday night, and the race for another Big 12 title will press on.
“We got to get our edge back,” Self said.
He then added: “Play right, and wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.