After one of the worst NCAA Tournament losses in Kansas history, Bill Self walked down an Alamodome hallway with his tie already loose and the top button of his shirt already undone.
In the privacy of the Jayhawk locker room, Self told his players to try not to get too down on themselves. But that will be hard to do after this game. It might be more difficult to do than after any other season-ending game during the Self era — because this was the worst of them all.
“Perspective?” Kansas center Udoka Azubuike said. “It’s hard, man. Just thinking that it’s one game from holding the trophy, and you just lost it. It’s hard.”
Kansas’ 16-point margin of defeat on Saturday was the greatest of any NCAA Tournament loss in Self’s 15 seasons at KU. This 95-79 dud against fellow No. 1 seed Villanova was only two points off from tying the worst NCAA Tournament loss in program history, the 1940 national championship game against Indiana, which was also the Jayhawks’ first ever NCAA Tournament loss.
Self has led the Jayhawks to the Final Four three times, and this was the first time Kansas did not advance to the championship game. KU's head coach is now 3-2 in the final two rounds of the NCAA Tournament and is on a two-game slide. KU is 9-6 all-time in the national semifinal round.
After playing in one of the 2018 tournament’s best games a week ago — a narrow win over No. 2 seed Duke — the Jayhawks looked flat right away. Five of Villanova’s first seven field goals were three-pointers, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-4 lead. Kansas players later admitted the obvious: That was a blow to their collective confidence that they never recovered from.
“You feel like you don’t really give yourself a chance to win,” guard Malik Newman said. “You put yourself in a deep hole. And it’s hard to climb out of it.”
By halftime, Villanova had already tied the Final Four record for three-point makes, and the Wildcats finished the game 18-of-40 from three. That performance tied a KU record for most three-point field goals by an opponent. The Wildcats also tied KU's season high for points yielded in a game.
Kansas players and their coach liked to say throughout the season that people doubted them because of their short rotation, a difficult conference schedule and some uncharacteristic defeats at Allen Fieldhouse. Self made sure to remind his players of that again after the game.
But that talk didn’t seem to help the Jayhawks much — at least not immediately. Their locker room was quiet. Lagerald Vick leaned over in front of his locker, hanging his head. Azubuike did not seem interested in talking much about his mother making her way from Nigeria to watch him play.
Even Self wasn’t sure how to process this.
“To me, it would be a sour ending if you lost on the last possession,” Self said. “Do you feel better, you know, losing the way we did today or losing on the last possession?”