The Kansas basketball players, who suffered a three-game losing streak during Saturday night’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game in Kentucky, discussed the Jayhawks’ recent struggles with each other.
Yes, there was communication, but seemingly nothing as formal as a team meeting like the one held at Henry T’s restaurant during a rough patch in the 2007-08 national title season.
“We’ve just come together as a team after the defeat here recently – we’ve only come together to figure out what it will take (to win),” junior forward Jalen Wilson said on Thursday. He said “no”, asked if he was classified as a “team meeting”.
Back-to-back setbacks against Kansas State, TCU, and Baylor lowered KU’s record to 16-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play. Saturday’s foe, Kentucky, is 13-6 (4-3 in the SEC) and on a four-game hitting streak enters the 7:00 p.m. center tip at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
“I think it’s quite evident that the teams scored us quite easily, more than usual. I think defense and making teams play poorly and get back to that is what it’s going to take to get these accumulated wins back,” Wilson said.
“It didn’t take any madness,” he added, referring to the talks between the players. “Like I said, it’s not that we don’t know what it is. We just have to run it.
Wilson said the locker room talk was “pretty much the same. We all have the great players and tools to win games, so (if) we lose games it’s pretty obvious why most of the time. The teams here have been scoring quite easily on us lately. Our first times weren’t the best. Squads attacked us early. We tried to focus on keeping it as tight as possible and starting the game off strong.
Players and coaches, of course, communicate at various times during practice and movie sessions.
“Jalen told me very well yesterday. When we fell behind in two of the last three games, we became a good defensive team after falling behind.” KU head coach Bill Self said. “The problem is, there isn’t much margin for error. You fall behind and suddenly you have an empty possession, they make a three and now… you are deflated because you spent so much energy getting back. And that’s something we need to start doing, not put yourself (in that position) with the margin of error so small.
Self is looking for his Jayhawks to get a better start.
They trailed by double digits in the first half of their last three games, all of which were losses.
“If anyone has an idea on how to (make) two of your first three shots to start a game, I’m all ears,” Self said with a smile. “Or how you can play pretty good defense and have him three at guard at the end of the half. These things happen. We can’t keep digging a hole where it’s away from home and you’re down by 10, or even at home when you’re playing with really good people. Hopefully running better stuff soon, maybe try a couple of different things.
“But the way we play, our first five plays are written into every game. And so going into it, we feel like if we do, this would be a way to see how they protect the ball shields or we can see how they’re going to protect the post, or we can see if they’re going to change our first five plays, which might give us a better read for later. And I think maybe we just need to run our own thing a little better in the beginning.
Self in the SEC/Big 12 challenge
KU head coach Bill Self was a fan of the SEC/Big Challenge, which for the past nine seasons brought teams from both conferences together, usually on the same day, to judge conference supremacy.
Himself and the other coaches, however, aren’t thrilled with the timing. It has been a one-day event in recent seasons, one day in late January, that has served as a stoppage in conference play.
“I don’t want to downplay any games, but the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is great because it’s a day where our leagues get all the attention across America, but from a game and coaching perspective, it can’t come at a worse time,” said Sé. “I heard a manager in our league talking about not playing starters this week if they’ve been nicked, to definitely have them healthy next week.
“This game, the way it’s done because both leagues are so good and everything, it’s a seed line game (for the NCAA Tournament) and it’s two blue bloods playing against each other and the two most successful programs and all that. This is important (but) I guarantee you both (KU, UK) think: “I don’t want anything to happen in this game that will negatively affect us next week”. That’s kind of how we feel about this game, even though it’s a great game and we’re going to approach it that way.
“But this game will have no impact on what’s more important which is your second season. This includes your conference season. This game is part of your first season, which isn’t as important as the conference season. At least that’s how I see it.”
Asked if he would consider keeping players on Saturday, Self said: “We will do what the game tells us to do. We play to win. There’s not much response time on this one. It is played on Tuesday (at home against Kansas State). We will play to win. The only reason we wouldn’t play them is (if) we’re medically told they can’t.
KU is 5-4 in the challenge, which ends after this season. KU is 2-2 in the game against Kentucky.
Self provided injury reports for Cam Martin (shoulder), Kyle Cuffe (knee) and MJ Rice (back).
“Kyle is doing pretty well. He’s not back yet, but he’s doing pretty well. He’s actually exercising in limited capacity,” Self said. “Yesterday Cam practiced in limited capacity, but he’s not at full speed, nor do we expect him to be at full speed for a while. And MJ, I haven’t seen nothing, at least yesterday, that would lead you to believe it couldn’t attend, because it was fully booked yesterday.