NCAA Tournament

Davidson loss was a turning point for KU

It was a film session that showed ugly truths. Kansas coach Bill Self saw a team with selfish thoughts. Conner Teahan looked at a team still trying to find itself.

Just nine days after beating No. 2 Ohio State in Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 10, Kansas had made the short drive to Kansas City to play Davidson at the Sprint Center. They left in shock, victims of an 80-74 loss.

“It was terrible,” Teahan said.

So terrible, in fact, that Self didn’t want to waste a second before pointing out the flaws. In that moment, the Jayhawks stood at 7-3, the momentum-building win against Ohio State soured by a loss against a Southern Conference team in a de facto home game. The beginning of conference play was just two weeks away, and the Final Four in New Orleans seemed months — and worlds away — from Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think we might have gotten off the bus and watched film,” Teahan said.

The Jayhawks talked about their identity. Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who had just undergone surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee, would have to recover. Thomas Robinson, who had 21 points and 18 rebounds against Davidson, would have to be a rock. And the supporting players would have to solidify their roles.

“We were still trying to figure out what kind of team we were,” junior guard Travis Releford said.

Amid all that talk, there was also concern: Maybe this Kansas team just wasn’t that good.

“That was not an upset tonight,” Self said then. “We have to be sharp every night we play, because there is not much margin for error.”

More than three months later, Self and other KU players say that something good came out of that loss. Maybe it was a reminder how to handle success. Maybe it was a realization that this team could not be successful in the same ways as in year’s past.

“We knew that we had a high ceiling,” Teahan said. “Obviously, not as high as some of the teams we’ve had here. But at the same time, we don’t have a ton of depth, but we have enough people.”

In the following weeks, the Jayhawks won 10 in a row, still the longest streak of the season.

This week, Self was reminded of a similar pivot point in the 2008 championship season. Four years ago, a different Kansas team returned home after a close loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Feb. 23. That team huddled at Henry T’s on Sixth Street, a watering hole known for its chicken wings, and opened up. Players on that team said that nobody knows for sure what was said during the meal. Only that after, everyone was back on the same page.

If the Wing Summit of 2008 was a curiosity in the weeks after, it became legendary when the Jayhawks rolled off 13 straight victories and cut down the nets at the Final Four in San Antonio.

Self downplays the magic of that meeting at Henry T’s. One meeting can’t make a team come together, he says. But he says there is something to be learned in a loss. And if nothing else, this year’s team has shown the ability to regroup and become stronger after a setback.

“I think we’ve had close teams in the past,” Self said. “I don’t think we’ve had a team this close.”

Teahan, who was also a member of the 2008 team, says this year’s team hasn’t necessarily needed a Henry T’s moment. Instead, the players found out early that they would need to hold each other accountable on a daily basis. The losses and flaws couldn’t fester.

“We spend so much time together as a team, that I don’t think one meeting outside makes a huge difference,” Teahan said. “Now voicing what we need to be doing, and what will make us successful is important. And that’s something that I think this team has done a lot more on a regular basis.”

On Wednesday evening, the team that couldn’t beat a midmajor in Kansas City arrived in New Orleans for the program’s first Final Four since 2008. On Saturday night, they will take the floor against Ohio State in the Superdome with a berth in the national championship game at stake. The loss against Davidson feels like a distant memory. So much so, players say, they’d probably need another film session to remember it.

“We still don’t know it all,” Robinson said. “But we came a long way.”

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