University of Kansas

Bill Self’s regret on the game’s biggest play against Arizona State

KU coach Bill Self: ‘We got what we deserved’ in loss

Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self talks after his team's 80-76 loss to Arizona State on Dec. 22, 2018. KU fell to 10-1.
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Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self talks after his team's 80-76 loss to Arizona State on Dec. 22, 2018. KU fell to 10-1.

Late in Tuesday’s victory against South Dakota — with Kansas controlling the game — Bill Self decided to call the play.

He yelled it from the sideline, and a few seconds later, his players went to work in front of him.

Devon Dotson started with a dribble handoff to Charlie Moore. After one dribble, Lagerald Vick cut backdoor from the corner, and Moore threw a lob pass toward the rim, with Vick finishing the play with a two-handed slam.

This is the backdrop needed to fully understand Self’s postgame comments following Saturday’s 80-76 road loss to Arizona State at Wells Fargo Arena.

KU had plenty of breakdowns late. After dominating most of the game, the Jayhawks missed shots in important moments, then couldn’t keep the Sun Devils off the free-throw line when it counted most.

But Self’s biggest regret, while leaning against a cinder-block wall just outside his team’s locker room late Saturday night, centered on his own actions.

“I did such a bad job in the last timeout,” Self said, shaking his head back and forth. “I did such a bad job in making sure we got a shot.”

Let’s reset to that last stoppage: KU was trailing 78-76, 22 seconds left, with possession of the ball. After talking some with assistant coach Norm Roberts — who appeared to mouth something about getting Vick in the corner — Self sat in front of his players to explain the play he wanted to run.

The coach’s thought was to shoot a three. “Just to end it,” Self said afterward. And Vick — the team’s best outside shooter — would be the best guy to do it.

Self told his players what he wanted: that same play call that KU had run late in the South Dakota game to get that Moore-to-Vick lob.

There would be a wrinkle, though. Self said to run that same action, while wanting Vick to not go backdoor this time. Instead, if he stayed in the corner, he potentially would be open for a three.

“All Lagerald heard was (the play call), which is a backdoor lob,” Self said.

The important sequence, on re-watch, makes much more sense knowing that.

The two guard roles were switched this time. Moore handed off to Dotson, who turned the corner looking to get into the paint. The hope would be to draw Vick’s defender, then kick out for a corner three.

Except ... Vick went backdoor, which threw everything off. Dotson hesitated. Vick got the ball, then tried to throw it back. Dotson couldn’t handle the pass, and it went to the backcourt for a violation.

“I screwed that deal up,” Self said.

Teammate Dedric Lawson called it a “misunderstanding.” Dotson, when asked, said the team “just mishandled it.”

Self was willing to go farther to take the blame, figuring he could have put his team in a better position to succeed.

“I wish I’d handled that situation different,” Self said. “If I had to do it all over right now, I’d play to a pick-and-pop and let Dedric shoot a three to win or not win it. Something simple. Obviously I didn’t do a good job there at all.”

Let’s be clear: Self is one of college basketball’s best in-game coaches, often helping his team to small edges that have resulted in the Jayhawks winning more than their fair share of close games over his 16-year tenure.

On this night, he felt like he’d let his team down, as KU’s most important possession was filled with confusion.

Consider it part of the growth process. Self is still learning this team, just as much as this roster is adapting to him.

Here’s the important thing to keep in mind: The Jayhawks’ most significant close games of the season are still ahead of them, not behind them.

And you can bet, based on Saturday’s events, Self won’t let his team go down in the future without getting a shot.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.