At times, Kansas coach Bill Self says, “we can really, really, really guard.”
Other times, KU’s defensive game is “average,” which in Self-speak is code for unacceptable.
Such peaks and dips and ruts and spurts are to be expected in the course of a season, naturally — but Self was talking about a more compressed time frame.
“Those type of things (change) in between timeouts,” he said, laughing as he made reference to a 1976 film. “I mean, it’s like … ‘Sybil’; we’ve got multiple personalities … within the game.”
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This sort of volatility theoretically might make Kansas more vulnerable than usual.
Only you would never have known that Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Because that tendency was trumped by the singular personality of the Sunflower Showdown, which has disintegrated into a rivalry in name only after KU’s 49th win over Kansas State in their last 53 meetings and 20th in the last 21 at Allen Fieldhouse.
The latest anticlimax here, a 68-57 Jayhawks victory, was so numbingly inevitable that near game’s end KU fans only briefly and half-heartedly mustered and sustained a chant of, “This Is Our State.”
Same as it ever was, at least in modern history.
The final score was deceptively competitive considering KU had seized a 20-5 stranglehold in the first 8 minutes of the game, a span symbolized by K-State coach Bruce Weber’s apoplectic tirade during a timeout.
Punctuated by Weber spiking a clipboard, his message was about “having some pride” and playing with poise and togetherness and a certain ferocity.
“You have to guard them and fight them; I’m not saying with fists (but) you have to battle,” Weber said later. “If you don’t do that, if you think you are going to go in and just be pretty and soft, you aren’t going to win.”
His outburst, alas, was so futile as to be immediately followed by a 10-1 Kansas run.
So maybe this was more a small step than a giant leap for KU, but it also was the type of grind-it-out win that this team has to have in its arsenal to flourish late in the season.
Kansas held K-State to 17 percent shooting in the first half before the Wildcats shot 56 percent in the second half.
“We didn’t go backwards, so that’s a good way to look at it,” said guard Wayne Selden, who had 14 points and four blocked shots.
For that matter, Kansas also trudged forward a smidge by not frittering away a double-digit lead as it had against Utah, Oklahoma and Texas Christian.
Self seemed proud that he refrained from making that point to his players as K-State was on the verge of cutting the lead to single digits in the second half.
“I can be very, very negative I guess, I’m told, from time to time,” he said, laughing.
Humor aside, Self knows that how he coaxes his team through incremental steps is what will produce the ultimate signature of a different kind of season for the Jayhawks.
Even if it is more prone to droughts than any other KU teams Self can remember, Kansas, incidentally, is 18-3, ranked ninth and on the inside track to a preposterous 11th straight Big 12 title even as the Jayhawks try to become who they are.
“Not great but good enough,” Self said, referring to KU’s 42-37 rebounding advantage Saturday but aptly speaking to the broader picture.
So that’s where KU, 7-1 in the Big 12, stands as it prepares for a more true version of a showdown Monday night against No. 15 Iowa State, 16-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big 12, which dashed past the Jayhawks 86-81 on Jan. 17 in Ames.
Which Kansas team will show up on Monday?
Most likely, all of the above at once. Again.
Until demonstrated otherwise, multiple personalities are its personality.
“I think for the most part we know what we’re going to get,” Self said. “But without being negative, we don’t have the same talent level we’ve had in the past.”
That’s true, of course. You don’t lose Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, two of the first three players chosen in the NBA Draft, and have upgraded talent.
Just the same, Self in some ways is playing it coy as a motivational point. Kansas has ample talent — and Self by now is accustomed to crafting extreme makeovers of his rosters.
“It’s not like it’s broken or anything like that,” Self said. “But it is frustrating at times, because I think we can do so much better.”
Sounding like a man with multiple personalities of his own, though, he also said not peaking yet “is positive, because I think there’s room for growth.”
So the difference between maximizing that room for growth and not will come down to harnessing the psychological makeup of this team. Don’t doubt that Self will find the way to bring out the best of its personalities.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.