Bill Self stood outside Kansas’ locker room in a crowded Sprint Center hallway with a smile on his face as he showered praise on his 2018-19 Jayhawks basketball team.
It’s almost as if the No. 3 seed, No. 17-ranked Jayhawks (25-9) had defeated No. 5 seed Iowa State (23-11) in Saturday’s finals of the Big 12 tournament instead of losing by a lopsided 78-66 score.
“This is the best I’ve felt about my team all year long,” an exceedingly positive KU coach Self said of the cold-shooting Jayhawks, who defeated No. 6 seed Texas in the quarterfinals and No. 10 seed West Virginia in the semifinals before losing to the Cyclones by 12 points in the final.
KU made 3 of 18 threes and 7 of 13 free throws to ISU’s 7 of 19 threes and 19 of 25 free throws. Quentin Grimes was 0 of 6 from three but 5 of 6 from two for 10 points.
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“I’ve been on my team all year long (about) how we don’t play to our athletic ability,” Self said. “I thought we looked fast. I thought Quentin looked more athletic doing some things. I thought that was a real positive.”
“They competed,” Self said. “We couldn’t get any baskets to go down. They made the same shots we missed. They were just better getting the ball in the basket.
“We did some good things. (For example) Dedric had more good looks in the first half than he had all year. They just didn’t go in.”
Junior forward Lawson scored 18 points on 8 of 21 shooting for the Jayhawks, who made 28 of 71 shots for 39.4 percent (ISU was 26 of 54 for 48.1 percent). Lawson missed 9 of 11 first-half shots as KU trailed 32-22 at the break.
Lawson also picked up a technical foul, bouncing the basketball hard off the ground after Grimes was called for a foul with 1:20 left and KU down 72-63. ISU hit four straight free throws, putting an end to any thought of KU rallying from a 17-point deficit and pulling out the victory.
Self wasn’t furious at Lawson for picking up the T. In fact …
“Dedric getting that technical late, I thought that was great too. (It was) frustration. No matter what the situation is, you can’t get frustrated,” Self said. “That’s good for him too. I don’t think anybody will say that was in any way disrespectful. That was just frustration on having some guys lay on him all night.
“That’s good for everybody (to learn) that regardless of the situation you can’t let emotions get the best of you. We’re a young team. A lot of people are going through stuff for the first time.”
Not to belabor the point … but Self indeed was singing a happy tune after KU’s second loss to Iowa State against one victory this season. The Cyclones won the Big 12 Tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.
“We never laid down, that’s for sure. We fought hard,” Self said. The Jayhawks trailed by 17 points (41-24) just 2:49 into the second half and sliced that deficit to 10 points. KU again trailed by 17 (52-35) with 11:48 to play and cut that deficit to 10 (52-42) at 10:07. And KU cut a 14-point deficit to 60-51 at 7:06. Finally, KU cut a 15 point deficit (70-55 at 4:43) to 70-61 at 2:53.
“The guys … their body language was good. We kept grinding. I thought that was a good thing to see. If we weren’t going to win today … I thought I saw some good things.”
The bottom line, he added, “is we had a good week. We didn’t win, though. Are we (upset) that we lost? Yes, but I thought we got better. I thought we had some individuals have a better understanding of what it takes to win in March. We are going to play a team in the first round (of upcoming NCAA Tournament) more than likely will play four guards (as ISU did). That’s good preparation for that.”
Lawson, who said he “really wasn’t trying to slam the ball down that hard,” in picking up the technical foul, explained his T did come out of frustration.
“This game meant a lot to me. I wanted to win something this year, walk away with the hardware of course,” Lawson said. “That’s basically what it was. I’m very proud of the guys. We responded being down. We’ve got to take some good from that. Guys showed a lot of fight, didn’t quit. We definitely wanted to win the title. Iowa State got the best of us. Now we’re going to try to make the best run in the NCAA Tournament.”
Lawson, who made the all-tournament team with Devon Dotson, led KU with 18 points. Dotson had 17 points and three assists, Grimes 10 points and Garrett 15 rebounds to go with seven points and four assists in 35 minutes.
All-tourney team pick Lindell Wigginton scored 17 points, tourney MVP Marial Shayok 15 points, all-tourney team pick Michael Jacobson 14 points and Tyrese Haliburton 11 for ISU.
“I thought we came in this tournament and got better. That gives us confidence going in the NCAAs,” sophomore guard Garrett said, who noted of his rebounds, “I think I should do that especially when we play small.”
David McCormack had just four points in eight minutes as Self elected to go with four guards much of the game. Self said after the game that nothing had changed and McCormack would remain a starter in the NCAAs, mentioning that KU is 8-3 with its four freshman/one junior lineup.
NOTES: KU fell to 25-9 on the season. If the Jayhawks do not win the national championship, KU will lose 10 games this season for the first time since 2013-14, when KU went 25-10. That team lost to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big 12 regular-season title and losing in the Big 12 semis. … KU is 15-7 all-time in conference tournament finals, including 11-3 in Big 12 title contests … KU is 5-1 in neutral-site games and 15-2 over the last two seasons at neutral sites. … Kansas is 46-12 all-time in the Big 12 Tournament. … The Jayhawks are 41-10 all-time in Sprint Center, including 3-1 this season. … KU leads the all-time series versus Iowa State 182-66, including 3-3 in Big 12 Tournament meetings … Bill Self is 472-105 while at Kansas, 679-210 overall, 27-10 all-time versus Iowa State (26-10 while at KU) and 41-13 all-time in conference tournaments (32-8 while at KU) … KU is 2,273-858 all-time.