Bill Self was fuming. His screams were laced with profanities. His face was red.
The outburst had started suddenly, after a technical foul on his most talented player. But now the anger was persisting. For an entire minute — and then most of another.
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“This was an emotional deal,” Self said.
In Self’s world, most everything has a purpose. Words are crafted. Messages to players are calculated. But late on Friday night, after his top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks had dispatched No. 5 seed Iowa State 88-73 in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals at the Sprint Center, Self stood in a back hallway and let the world know a little secret. His first-half tirade was no mad-scientist power play. This was raw emotion, a coach fighting for his players.
“That was a ‘Mad T,’” Self said. “That was a ‘Mad T.”
If the outburst was unintentional, it also happened to be another stroke of genius. The series, in question, had begun with 9:41 left in the first half, when KU freshman Ben McLemore drained a three-pointer from the corner, right in front of the Iowa State bench.
After the three, McLemore took a peek at the Iowa State bench and did a couple happy high-steps down the sideline, drawing a technical foul from referee John Higgins.
“All I did was my usual (routine),” said McLemore, who added he didn’t say anything to the Iowa State bench. “(I) hold up three and I just went ‘boom.’ And I was looking at the bench when I did it.”
The call provoked an emotional outburst from Self, who had to be held back by assistants Norm Roberts and Kurtis Townsend. Iowa State’s Chris Babb made both technical free throws. But Self continued to scream at Higgins for the next minute and a half. And after Iowa State’s Georges Niang hit a layup that cut KU’s lead to 20-19 with 7:49 left, the officials had heard enough, hitting Self with a technical.
“I didn’t agree with the technical call on Ben at all,” Self said, “and certainly didn’t agree with the explanation. But John called it, and I should live with it probably more than what I did.”
But something happened after Self’s tirade — something that filtered down to the middle of KU’s bench. Iowa State had arrived on Friday night looking for payback, out to prove that KU’s first two victories over the Cyclones were the product of fluke shots and missed calls. Seventh-ranked Kansas, meanwhile, was just looking for confirmation.
And when Self freaked, the Kansas players took notice.
“We were gonna go out and play our heart out for him,” KU senior Travis Releford said.
In a feverish and emotional building, Kansas, 28-5, finished the first half on a small run, taking a 35-31 lead into the locker room. In the second half, with freshman Perry Ellis leading the way with a career-high 23 points, the Jayhawks simply took control.
For most of the second half, the Jayhawks had to play without senior forward Kevin Young, who tweaked his ankle twice during the game and headed to the locker room early in the second half for an X-ray. But with Ellis filling in admirably, KU limited Iowa State, the nation’s leader in three-point attempts, to just nine for 33 three-point shooting.
“It’s a chess match,” said senior center Jeff Withey, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. “(Coach) thought that they came out with a lot of energy, and he did what he needed to do to get us pumped up.”
By late in the second half, KU fans were chanting “Perry, Perry” and preparing for their title bout with in-state rival Kansas State at 5 p.m. Saturday.
For KU’s players, the next opponent didn’t matter. On Friday, they had simply come to prove themselves against Iowa State. Back in January, they had survived against the Cyclones with the help of McLemore’s banked-in three-pointer at Allen Fieldhouse. In the rematch at Hilton Coliseum, they had needed a 39-point performance from Elijah Johnson and some controversial calls. This time, they were just better.
“It’s motivating for us,” Withey said, “to be able to go out there, on a neutral floor, and show them we’re Kansas and there are no flukes.”