WACO, Texas – At first glance, it’s alarming to see Kansas on a three-game losing streak in men’s basketball.
Prior to Monday, only Jayhawks redshirt junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr., redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson and senior guard Michael Jankovich had suffered a third straight loss under head coach Bill Self. It was during the 2020-21 season in their second season at Kansas. The following season, when the Jayhawks won the national championship, Kansas suffered just once in a losing streak.
Then came Monday and an away fight against No. 17 Baylor. No. 9 Kansas comes after already losing consecutive games to other Big 12 Conference opponents who are also ranked in the current top 25. The Jayhawks suffered a 75-69 loss in a game in which they held the lead for less than a minute.
Self sounded no alarm after the game as he reflected on his team’s recent slide from first place in the conference standings. Neither he nor the players who spoke to reporters afterwards felt dejected. And for Kansas to turn the tables, especially with an SEC/Big 12 Challenge game at Kentucky looming, that kind of prospect can’t dissipate.
RELATED:KU vs. Baylor basketball recap: Jayhawks lose 75-69, suffer third straight Big 12 loss
RELATED:3 more things to think about ahead of Kansas men’s basketball tip against Baylor
“There is time to react negatively if your team is not doing well; this is not one of our times,” Self said. we’re going through right now. We’ve been beaten by a team (Kansas State) that’s fifth in the country right now to their place by one. And we’ve been beaten at home (against TCU) who could have beat anyone in the country on Saturday. So , our championship is so good. It will be a grind.”
Self continued: “Our team is not talented enough to be disappointed when equally talented teams play better than us and are frustrated by it. We don’t have the same margin of error that we’ve had in years past, and that’s okay. But you don’t have that much margin for error, and the other teams in the league are much better, that makes things difficult. So, the difference in our league compared to the past: there are no matches where you can watch and say: ‘We can do well here’. I mean, there’s none of those games.
The first step to ensuring three straight losses don’t lead to a fourth might be to discover why Kansas (16-4, 5-3 in Big 12 play) struggles to keep up with its opponent going into games. Baylor led by as many as 13 points in the first half, TCU by 22 and Kansas State by 14. Twice the Jayhawks nearly rallied to win, against Baylor and Kansas State, but each time the deficits took their toll.
As Wilson said, once they give another team that much trust, it’s hard to take away that lead. As Self allowed, Kansas’s halftime woes aren’t exclusive to those three losses. And while a better play wouldn’t have guaranteed the Jayhawks the halftime lead in any of the three games, they would have had the energy to expend later on that they depleted trying to come back.
Against Baylor (15-5, 5-3 in Big 12 play), Kansas let the Bears have a plus-nine lead in offensive rebounds and a plus-12 lead in second chance points. Kansas also committed 15 turnovers to Baylor’s nine and scored eight points on turnovers to the Bears’ 19. Kansas weathered the initial storm from Baylor and saw success with Wilson reaching 23 points and freshman guard Gradey Dick 24, but fell short again.
“We knew tonight was going to be a tough game,” said Wilson. “It’s always a tough game in Waco, no matter what’s going on. And right now, we just need to focus on what comes next. The good thing is that we don’t play anymore until Saturday. So, we get some rest, we rearrange ourselves a bit, and we’re aware of what we need to do better.
Wilson knows no one will feel sorry for the Jayhawks. He thinks the rest of the league is probably happy to see their collapse. Saturday’s Kentucky game presents Wilson and his teammates with another formidable opponent, once again away from home, despite the problems the Wildcats have experienced this season.
Kentucky beat a Tennessee team outscoring Kansas earlier this season. Kentucky has a home record in Lexington that rivals Kansas’ success in Lawrence. And last season, the Wildcats defeated the Jayhawks.
“Get back to work, that’s all you can do,” said redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., who had a double-double against Baylor. “Short-term memory, that’s what Coach Self is preaching to us. Short-term memory. Learn from it, have a great week of preparation and go out there and compete.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas athletics at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is the National Sports Media Association Sportswriter of the Year for the state of Kansas for 2022. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.