John E. Hoover: Bill Self is not giving up on his Kansas team
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 8:10 AM
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OU gets a win worth celebrating in downing No. 5 Kansas
Original Print Headline: Self not giving up on his KU team
NORMAN - The Kansas Jayhawks are not who we thought they were. But they still can be.
KU clearly is not the Big 12 bully who started the season winning 19 of its first 20 games and reached No. 1 in the coaches poll.
"We were never quite as good as our record," coach Bill Self said Saturday after KU lost 72-66 at Oklahoma. "But we're better than what we've played here this past week."
Last weekend, KU wilted in the final minute against Oklahoma State and killed its 33-game home-court winning streak. Wednesday's loss at TCU sent KU record-keepers thumbing through the most ancient of Kansas annals in search of all-time lows for scoring futility. And at OU, the Sooners sent the Jayhawks to their third consecutive defeat, the longest such streak for Kansas since 2005.
But this is no time to panic. The blue-clad fans who stuffed into Lloyd Noble Center - maybe a quarter of the crowd of 10,503 - should remain encouraged. And for that matter, the rest of the Big 12 isn't throwing dirt on KU's casket just yet.
"Our guys have got so much respect for Kansas, it wasn't difficult to get ready to play, that's for sure," said OU coach Lon Kruger.
Said Self, "It hasn't been a good week for us by any stretch. But let's be real. If you're ranked No. 2 in the country (in the Associated Press Top 25) just seven days ago, you don't go from being a good team to a bad team overnight. You've had a couple bad outings."
Self, a famous Oklahoman, lost to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State twice in the same week. Last week in Lawrence, the Cowboys and star freshman Marcus Smart took over in the final moments. Saturday in Norman, it was little-used Je'Lon Hornbeak who scored seven points in the final 1:21 to hold off a KU rally.
But even in defeat Saturday, Kansas showed resilience that should have the rest of the Big 12 on high alert.
Remember, this was "the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor," according to Self after the loss to a TCU team that previously was winless in Big 12 play.
His words were strong, and they got a lot of media attention. But did he choose those strong words to get his players' attention?
"My statements? No," he said. "Their attention was gotten before that. It didn't have anything to do with how we played."
Self admits using a bit of "sarcasm" in Fort Worth when he talked about Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the hallowed game of basketball, losing to Topeka YMCA.
"I wasn't really that strong," Self said. "It's true. It's true. My (team publicist) said it's the worst half, the least number of field goals, Kansas has ever recorded in a half."
Turns out that record actually goes back to the 1988-89 season, the year after KU and Danny Manning beat OU in an epic showdown for the national championship. That's when they started keeping records for statistics in a single half in Lawrence.
And, OK, Self invoked the Topeka YMCA in a bit of an improvisational riff. It's what came to mind in an emotional moment.
"Topeka YMCA was the first game we ever won (Feb. 10, 1899)," Self explained Saturday with a wry smile. "The ball's in my office. Kansas versus Topeka YMCA, 31-6."
The point is, Self isn't hung up on that abysmal performance at TCU. And he's certainly not hung up on losing to the Sooners.
"I'm not leaving out of here disgusted with my team today," Self said.
Well, consider that progress.
Kansas does start four seniors. Three of those are fifth-year players. The freshman who cracks such an accomplished starting lineup, guard Ben McLemore, is second in the Big 12 in scoring at 16.3 points per game and drew a crowd of NBA scouts on Saturday that included Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
And the Jayhawks went into the weekend leading the nation in field goal shooting defense (35.6 percent). That's not something that just goes away when buckets aren't falling.
Kansas has won eight consecutive Big 12 Conference crowns. This team's fifth-year seniors had already signed with KU when Self guided the Jayhawks to the national championship in 2008. They know the expectations and embrace them.
They just don't understand what's happening right now.
"Right now we're trying to figure that out," senior guard Elijah Johnson said. "You can't ask a man who just got knocked out to count to 10. Can't think straight."
Kansas' Big 12 streak won't end this year just because the Jayhawks (7-3) trail Kansas State (8-2) by a game going into their Big Monday showdown at The Phog.
"We've been behind a game in the league race going into the last 7-8 games of the season before," Self said. "Now, if they were to defeat us, they'd have a two-game lead and really put us behind the 8-ball. It'll be a big game for us from the conference standpoint."
There's a significant logjam atop the Big 12, and it's anybody's league to win. Oklahoma State won at Texas Saturday to improve to 7-3. OU is tied with Iowa State and Baylor at 6-4.
"Does it surprise me that we're in a dogfight? No. Not at all," Self said. "This talk that people had, the whole deal about who's gonna finish second, I never thought that at all.
"Anything can happen, but we're gonna have to play our best ball, by far, of the conference season to have a chance to win it."
Kansas center Jeff Withey and Oklahoma forward Romero Osby react to a call in the second half Saturday. SUE OGROCKI / AP