If Bill Self pulls this off — if Kansas wins Big 12 title No. 13, tying the all-time consecutive record set by UCLA — there will be plenty of talk about how great a coach he is, and deservedly so.
Self always seems to create easy baskets with clever plays. He’s a great defensive teacher and also has mastered the art of working the officials to get extra calls to swing his team’s way.
Having said all that, there’s also a bit of a beauty to basketball that showed through Friday as KU closed out its 86-80 victory over TCU. It’s something that can’t be replicated as well in baseball or football, where moments of pressure are often separated by 30 seconds of everyone thinking and rethinking things over.
In basketball, there’s often not time to do that. Decisions must be made on the court, in the heat of the moment, and while Self certainly helped KU to a six-point lead with 1:30 left, he was left as a spectator when guard Frank Mason decided to close out the game on his own.
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It’s fascinating on second and third glance.
Self certainly tries to control the action, calling out his team’s “Forehead” play from the bench. He gently rubs his head. Then does it a little more vigorously. Then again. And again.
What’s going on here? Self tries one last time, poking his right finger at his temple, almost as if to tell Mason he’s crazy.
The coach isn’t alone thinking that. Svi Mykhailiuk, who is supposed to get the ball on a dribble handoff, whips his arm towards his body, motioning Mason to come his way.
What’s happening? What is Mason doing?
This is part of the beauty of basketball. No stopping to think about what’s coming next, or second-guessing a decision with the luxury of a few seconds between plays.
On the game’s biggest possession, Mason is calling an audible. And he’s also ignoring a future hall-of-fame coach.
“Not ignore,” Mason would say with a laugh afterwards, “but I had a driving lane, and the guy was behind me, so I knew I could get past him easily.”
Except it wasn’t that easy. Mason went right, crossed over left, then whipped to his right again, putting his head down before taking two steps into the lane to arc a shot over the extended arm of TCU’s Alex Robinson.
The ball floated for a second before landing softly on the back of the rim, glancing off the backboard before falling through the net.
Robinson jerked his head back in disgust. KU guard Devonté Graham — he’d signaled “forehead” three times to Mason a few seconds earlier — flexed his right bicep. Self’s face never changed expression, as he continued walking down the sideline as if he’d dialed up his team’s best play.
Maybe it ended up being that — a senior deciding he was going to win this game on his own, fearless enough to not even consider the possibility that he might miss.