Bill Self after win over Tech: 'We picked the best time to be our best'
The Bill Self standard is unfair.
Kansas players certainly know this by now. Sometimes it's easy to overlook positives and accentuate negatives because each KU team is being compared to others that have previously come through Lawrence.
No Jayhawks team has experienced that more than this one.
The storyline of the season has been what this KU team doesn't have. The Jayhawks don't have a wealth of talented big men. They don't have depth. They're not as physically imposing as teams of the past.
Yet looking at it this way narrows the view — and perhaps keeps us from reality.
"I don't think Kansas gets enough credit," Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said, "for how tough they are."
And though that toughness might not appear in the same form as years past, it is there nonetheless.
Beard gave proper perspective following KU's 74-72 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.
In his second season with the Red Raiders, Beard says he's worked hard to build an identity of mental toughness with his team. He emphasizes the importance of the strength and conditioning department and also has worked to develop a "next man up" mentality when his team faces adversity.
He still saw something different when he looked to the other sideline on Saturday.
"They've got those guys who play 40 and 39 minutes," Beard said. "Their strength coach must be a magician."
This isn't the typical KU view of "toughness." Fans might think of Thomas Robinson or Jamari Traylor or Frank Mason when envisioning guys who have personified that type of trait in years past.
It has looked different this season. Toughness is Devonté Graham playing 40 minutes for the 11th time in 12 games. It's Lagerald Vick staying in for 39 minutes, and Svi Mykhailiuk for 38 and even Udoka Azubuike for 29 — something that would have seemed unlikely a year ago considering the foul and conditioning issues he faced.
Toughness for this team, too, involved the burden of the streak. The Jayhawks had won the Big 12 for 13 straight years, and there was no way for KU's players to shield themselves from criticism they read on social media and elsewhere.
Still, after falling behind in the standings two weeks ago, KU found itself at the perfect time. Malik Newman played better after Self reiterated his confidence in him. The Jayhawks rediscovered their Allen Fieldhouse magic with a late rally against West Virginia, then picked up some swagger with a 30-point win over Oklahoma.
That all set up Saturday night, where Graham was at his best late. He was responsible for 70 percent of KU's scoring in the second half, which included a double-clutch layup that will be a part of the team's highlight reels for years to come.
"The way he played late, still making shots with tired legs," Beard said, "they're a tough team."
It's something that remains true, even if it hasn't been said enough this season.
And it all led to a party in United Supermarkets Arena Locker Room B. Self entered with the Big 12 championship trophy, hoisting it above his head before handing it over to Graham.
The white markerboard on the left had one word on it, underlined three times for emphasis: "History."
Yes, this team was a part of that, but it had also accomplished something else too.
The Jayhawks had won No. 14 by persevering in a way all their own.