Perry Ellis stood near the edge of a loading dock late Saturday night, heading for a charter bus in the hour after suffering a disappointing loss to No. 11 Iowa State.
Ellis, Kansas’ junior forward, had maneuvered around an ESPN production truck and wedged himself up next to a large opening. A steady hum of equipment echoed off concrete walls. One by one, the Jayhawks slowly filed out into the cold Iowa night.
This was the scene from Kansas’ first Big 12 loss, an 86-81 setback in a rabid Hilton Coliseum. As Ellis reflected on what had gone wrong, he repeated a message that Kansas coach Bill Self had just offered his players in the locker room.
“We can’t make one become two,” Ellis said.
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This was shorthand for one of Self’s oft-repeated mantras. In less than 48 hours, Ellis and Kansas would take the floor against No. 18 Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse at 8 p.m. on Big Monday. The Jayhawks couldn’t afford to let one loss become two, especially in a home game against an Oklahoma team that could be in the thick of the Big 12 race.
“Now the real fun begins,” Self said. “(It’s about) trying to get your team back (after) a short turnaround when it’s kind of a deflating loss.”
If the Jayhawks can hold serve at home Monday, it certainly would soothe some of the sting from the loss at Iowa State. A victory over Oklahoma would push Kansas to 4-1 in the Big 12, which would draw the Jayhawks even with first-place Kansas State. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will travel to Iowa State on Tuesday, which is perhaps a reminder that there really are no days off in the Big 12.
Kansas, of course, knows this all too well. After Monday’s matchup against Oklahoma, the Jayhawks will have four days to regroup before traveling to face No. 20 Texas.
But first things first. Oklahoma will enter Allen Fieldhouse coming off an 82-65 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Sooners are now 3-2 in the Big 12, with their only losses coming at home to K-State and on the road at West Virginia. Oklahoma also owns an impressive 70-49 demolition of Texas and a 10-point victory over Baylor.
“I think (Oklahoma) and Iowa State are the two best offensive teams in our league, and we saw how we guarded one of the two,” Self said, referencing his team’s defensive performance at Iowa State. “So we’ll have to make some adjustments and hopefully be turned up more defensively.”
The Jayhawks allowed Iowa State to shoot 50.8 percent from the floor and score 21 points off transition opportunities. Kansas’ transition defense was unorganized at times and slow to react at others. Self also benched freshman forward Cliff Alexander for most of the second half after a defensive lapse on a close-out.
For now, Self is looking for more energy on the defensive end, and Kansas might have to dig deep to find it. Late on Saturday, Self referenced the Big 12 bylaws that are supposed to protect teams from playing a late game on Saturday night and then playing in the Big Monday time slot.
“It is a quick turnaround,” Self said. “Our league, in our bylaws, we’re not allowed to do this. … But something slipped through the cracks.”
Self likes to say that the formula for winning the Big 12 is pretty simple. You must protect your home court and grind out victories on the road. For the past decade — and beyond — no Big 12 team has protected its home floor better than Kansas. In the last eight seasons, the Jayhawks have sustained just three home conference losses at Allen Fieldhouse. For Self and Kansas, that makes Monday gut-check time. A ranked team is coming into Allen Fieldhouse. And Kansas is trying to avoid a second straight loss.
“We got to let it go,” Kansas freshman guard Devonte’ Graham said. “We got a big game on Monday, so we can’t let one loss turn into two losses.”