Later on this season, perhaps in the early days of spring, the Kansas Jayhawks may look at Sunday's 61-57 rare home loss to San Diego State as a game that helped them to grow into the type of team head coach Bill Self envisions them as when it's all set and done. As it is, just ninth home loss in Self's 11 year tenure at Kansas was just that, a loss and with it comes some adversity as they prepare to open conference play Wednesday at Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks will head into that league opener with a record of 9-4, not exactly where many felt the Jayhawks would be at this point, but with it comes teaching points valuable to any team whose dreams often go as high as they can get in college basketball.
It's a learning process, and certainly one that I'm disappointed in for sure, but hopefully if we're in this situation again we act a little bit better," Self said. "We're going to play some more games where it comes down to the last three minutes."
Kansas was in a rare position all day, as they fell behind early and remained there throughout, only getting as close as two in the game's final minutes, before cutting it to one at 57-56 with just over 1:30 left to play. The Aztecs dominated physically, outrebounding the Jayhawks 51-39 and holding them to a season low 29.8% from the field on 17-57 shooting.
"There was definitely a lid (on the basket). The biggest lid was they really guard. They contest shots at the rim and they're explosive off their feet," Self said. "They trap the post and of course we struggled with that early and then we had a huge turnover late when they did that."
The loss snapped a 68 game non-conference winning streak dating back to a loss to Oral Roberts in November of 2006. The biggest story was the Aztecs, however. Their defense set the tone early and forced Kansas out of its comfort zone for the entire day.
"My biggest concern coming in was, 'How are we going to defend them in the post?' Because they are so good at hi-low, throwing it over the top, moving up the lane. I thought we were sensational with our post-defense," San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher said. "When they got it down low I thought we did a good job of getting in to the double team and when they threw it out we got out of it."
Kansas tried to keep pace as much as possible despite its shooting woes. Freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Frank Mason led the Jayhawks in scoring with 14 points a piece. 10 of Mason's points came in the second half. Fellow freshman Joel Embiid produced another double double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
San Diego State (12-1) countered the Kansas youth with veteran leadership. Seniors Xavier Thames and Josh Davis came up big with 16 and 10 points respectively. Davis hauled down 14 rebounds, as the Aztecs controlled the boards like few teams ever do against Kansas.
"We have a goal to rebound half of our misses. And that's exactly what we did, we had 19 offensive rebounds and I believe we had 38 misses," Fisher said "We made some crucial second-chance point opportunities. It was Skylar Spencer, Josh Davis and J.J. O'Brien that were relentless on the glass."
The Jayhawks now will ready themselves for what will amount to a difficult quest for a 10th straight Big 12 championship against a field that is showing to be much tougher than the so called experts thought before the season. Following Wednesday night's game with the Sooners, they'll return home to face red hot Kansas State on Saturday afternoon, before a brutal turnaround to face Iowa State in Ames, the following Monday night.
"We go to Oklahoma and then come back and play Kansas State who beat Oklahoma State, and then we go to Ames and they're undefeated," Self said. "It's a tough setup without question but we can get off to a great start if we do things better."