Bill Self couldn’t get one play out of his mind.
He brought it up in his radio interview with Greg Gurley following Kansas’ 84-79 home loss to Oklahoma State, then a few minutes later at his press conference, he spoke about it again.
“They got a couple rebounds where we just walked away from it and gave them uncontested baskets.”
Then: “We had some guys at the top of the key watching when everybody else is in there trying to get a rebound.”
This one sequence — less than three minutes into the game — wasn’t the reason KU lost as a 13-point favorite. It wasn’t a back-breaking moment, and it honestly didn’t mean all that much in a 69-possession game.
Yet Self deemed it important for good reason. This wasn’t just the issue Saturday. It is the issue for this team moving forward.
“The thing that worries me is the competitiveness on the glass,” Self said.
Eight ugly seconds summed that up best.
With 17:21 left in the first half, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Smith put up an errant floater in the lane. And Self, from KU’s bench a few steps away, had a good view of his team’s three best defensive rebounders:
▪ Lagerald Vick reacted to Smith’s first shot by running away from the rebound, taking a few steps the other way to try to get out early on a fastbreak. After an Oklahoma State offensive board and Jeffrey Carroll three-point attempt, Vick does the same again, ending up outside the three-point line when Cameron McGriff dunks it.
▪ Udoka Azubuike challenges the first shot but floats away to the side of the lane. After Carroll’s shot, Azubuike attempts to block out the same man as teammate Svi Mykhailiuk was trying to block out, and then Azubuike doesn’t recover against McGriff and lets him have the easy two.
▪ Malik Newman tries to close out on Carroll’s three-point attempt, but he also doesn’t run back to help with rebounding after the shot goes up. Like Vick, he is outside the three-point line when the play ends.
Self shows his frustration immediately. He looks at Newman, then at Vick, violently swinging his arm toward the lane to tell them where they should be.
“What’s disappointing is our two best rebounders were the worst today, Doke and Lagerald,” Self said. “They were actually no-factors on the glass, and didn’t do anything to help us rebound the ball.”
The stats reflected some of that. Azubuike had two defensive rebounds in 21 minutes, while Vick had three in 34.
And while this KU team is going to be outmuscled on the glass by many teams moving forward, that’s no reason, in Self’s eyes, to get out-hustled as well.
It wasn’t KU’s only failing Saturday. The Jayhawks continued to allow too many open threes, and their struggles guarding the ball were part of the reason the Cowboys made 57 percent of their shots inside.
And, at this point, it’s difficult to figure out what this KU defense’s identity should be. The Jayhawks don’t have the depth to pressure opponents and also don’t rebound well, which leaves their hopes pinned to missed shots and survival underneath.
That’s led to inconsistency — and also numbers that fans aren’t used to seeing from a Self defense.
KU has allowed 1.2 points per possession three times in Self’s 246 games at Allen Fieldhouse. Two of those contests have come this year: against Arizona State (1.24) and Oklahoma State (1.21).
The Jayhawks’ defensive rebounding wasn’t historically poor on Saturday, but it was close to that. Oklahoma State pulled down 47 percent of its missed shots, which left Self to compliment the Cowboys afterward.
“They play tough,” Self said.
The coach couldn’t say the same for his team on Saturday.
And you can bet that part will stick with him most.