This team has avoided the fate of having that trend produce a .500 record, but Saturday's effort certainly made for a .500 afternoon. Great for one half and lost for the other.
KU coach Bill Self said after the game that he didn't think his team had played all that well in the first half, rather they “just made shots.”
“If you go 7-of-9 from three, you should have a lead,” he added.
And the Jayhawks certainly did. After leading by 14 at one point, KU settled on a 41-30 first-half lead and cruised to the locker room in total control. But rather than roll over, Oklahoma State found a way to get fired up in the other locker room and came out on fire. The Cowboys took their first lead of the second half less than four minutes into it and then controlled the rest of the game the way the Jayhawks controlled the first half.
Despite a terrible second half, KU found a way to hang close and actually had a possession to tie it inside 30 seconds, but the Jayhawks' trend of sloppy, sluggish offense in the second half did them in down the stretch, as well, and OSU snagged the victory that set off a court storming for the second year in a row.
LJW Tait: The Day After
There are plenty of natural places to begin after No. 8 Kansas’ 67-62 loss to Oklahoma State, a disappointing setback that included a second-half collapse, a frustrated head coach and another raucous court-storming on the floor of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
But perhaps it’s best to start at halftime, with the scenes from two very different locker rooms. At a few minutes past 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self pushed through a doorway and faced his team. The Jayhawks had built a 41-30 halftime lead. They had drilled seven of nine from three-point range. And they sat just 20 minutes away from a 9-1 start in the Big 12 and a veritable stranglehold on an 11th straight Big 12 title.
And Self, well … he was not really happy at all.
…In the other locker room, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford stepped in front of his team. All week long, the Cowboys talked about unleashing a full-court press on Kansas. They practiced it, and drilled it, and Oklahoma State senior Le’Bryan Nash had begged his coach to press the heck out of Kansas. Ford, though, remained concerned that pressing too much would leave his thin roster too fatigued against the powerful Jayhawks. By halftime, though, the deficit was now 11. Ford had little choice.
“Forget it,” Nash recalled Ford saying. “Every trip, we’re pressing.”
For Kansas, this loss at Oklahoma State meant a couple of things. The Jayhawks are now 19-4 overall and 8-2 in the Big 12. Self dropped to 3-5 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, the venue where he once suited up for the Cowboys. And while Kansas remains in first place in the Big 12, the lead is now just one game over second-place Iowa State.
But more important, perhaps, is this question: Did Oklahoma State’s relentless pressure offer the rest of the Big 12 a template for how to beat Kansas?
“I don’t think we turned it over a ton because of their pressure,” Self said. “I think it got us out of rhythm some. When we did turn it over, we got passive, and obviously didn’t play very aggressively.”
There was a point in the second half — just after Oklahoma State had pulled ahead — when coach Travis Ford gave his team a message.
“Do not let them shoot a 3.”
It’s a small example of the upside-down world No. 8 Kansas finds itself in following a 67-62 loss to OSU on Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Jayhawks — succeeding year after year as one of the nation’s top 2-point shooting teams — had built their lead as large as 14 in the first half thanks to an outside shooting barrage that included 7-for-9 first-half accuracy.
That usually reliable inside game, though? It was so bad that an opposing coach was pleading with his players to not worry as much about the interior.
“They can score a couple layups. They can score a couple 2s. We can live with that,” Ford said afterward. “But 3s give teams momentum. Threes give teams confidence.”
KU didn’t get any of that in the second half — mostly because a season-long struggle against length reappeared at an inopportune time.
The Jayhawks went a combined 7 for 24 on layups and dunks (29 percent). That included 3-for-12 shooting in the second half.
“I feel like we just didn’t execute like we needed to on the offensive end,” KU forward Perry Ellis said. “That was it really.”
I understand that stats don't tell us everything about basketball. I get that we can't fully quantify energy plays or good rotation rebounding, and that there's some part of evaluation that has to be outside the numbers.
Having said that, I feel safe in saying there are no amount of intangibles that can make up for this difference statistically. Traylor is one of my favorite people to talk to and a great kid who has overcome a lot of obstacles, but this isn't about that for Self; it's about getting the best players on the court so they can produce and give the team the best chance at winning, both now and in the future.
Self did address Alexander's role at his weekly press conference last week, as he was asked if the big man had hit a freshman wall.
"I don't think he's hit a wall by any stretch, but he hasn't scored the ball as much lately," Self said. "But if you look at how he scored in other games it's off of penetration. It's not off of catching the ball in the post and making post moves or scoring over people as much as it is dropoffs and offensive rebounds and transitions. So I think Cliff's doing fine.
"We can say his minutes are down, maybe down two minutes a game or three minutes a game or whatnot. But we've had some guys step up."
Self is right in saying Alexander isn't perfect. He's not great scoring with his back to the basket. He sometimes messes up plays. He can get lost defensively.
From a big-picture perspective, though, all that shouldn't matter. KU has been a better team when Alexander is on the court, especially when he is in there alongside Perry Ellis.
It's time for Self to give his freshman big a longer leash — both for his team now and also to help its potential ceiling in postseason play.
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!