Who Are We?

With finals week over Friday for Kansas University students, now comes the biggest test for the KU basketball team. They must answer the compelling question on everyone's mind: Who are we?

KU coach Bill Self has been searching all season for his team’s identity. He’s been looking all year in practice and games for consistency, intensity, grit, and toughness on every possession.

Self most certainly wants Kansas to find its heart and soul and play with the same hunger every game that they showed in beating then-No. 1 Florida (82-80 in OT) on Nov. 25. And the same hunger his Jayhawks displayed last year when they won 15 of 16 games (10 straight) before bowing to Bradley in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve gone back and watched last year’s tape when we were playing very well, and last year’s tape when we weren’t playing as well, and trying to figure out some differences,” Self told reporters before Thursday’s practice. “There’s not much stuff we’re doing different now except we’re just not executing as well as we did last year and we’re not playing with the reckless abandon that we did last year. That’s what we go to get back — that aggressive reckless abandon that’s still sound, and we just haven’t played with that the last week.”

“A lot of coaches would not look at that as a problem, but with this situation, I just think (we need to) get a whole mindset to be aggressive,” Self added. “We just got to get everybody thinking more aggressive, think attack. That’s one thing we emphasize: ‘Hey, when you’re open, shoot it.’ But we’re not putting ourselves in position to get open. If there’s a little bit of doubt or you’re not quite sure, what you try to do is you try not to be quite as open when you catch it because you don’t put yourself under those conditions. And that’s what we got to get rid of, and I think just having an aggressive mindset will help.”

That lack of offensive aggressiveness certainly showed in KU’s last two games against USC and Toledo. The Jayhawks shot just 38. 1 percent vs. the Trojans on Dec. 4 and only 25 percent the second half against Toledo last Saturday.

“We’ve played way too passive on offense,” Self said. “And sometimes guys have been confused on what being aggressive is. Being aggressive is getting two people to guard you so you can make a pass to force a bad closeout as opposed to being aggressive in there so you can make the pass to finish the play. Our thoughts are right, we’re just not executing like we can. ...“We’ve got some pretty good looks. We’ve been a count off and something we’ve got to tighten up. ...It’s (good offense) not far off, but there’s just a thing here or there that’s keeping us from being as good as we can be on that end.”

Self believes the team’s offense and overall game will improve during the next month with unlimited practices before classes resume on Jan. 19.

“The repetition through practice will allow us to play with more confidence offensively when the game starts,” Self said. “We really haven’t had a chance to practice as much at all since we started playing games and playing 10 games in a relatively short amount of time. We got all our pieces back now practicing on a regular basis so this is good for us. And we need to practice. We weren’t playing as well as we can play, and you get better through practice, which breeds confidence and then you play better in the games.”

One player who should gain much needed confidence with practice time is 6-11 junior center Sasha Kaun, who sat out the first six exhibition and regular season games with a knee injury. He’s just now been able to practice each time this week (KU’s practiced Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday). Kaun is showing signs of regaining his form after having 10 points (5-of-5 field goals) and four blocks against Toledo in 22 minutes.

“I thought he played very well,” Self said. “He’s a big presence in there and he posts strong. I’m more concerned about the defensive end with him, because he can be our best low-post defender, which will take pressure off a lot of people.”

Now, Kaun and Kansas prepare for Winston-Salem State (1-12) next Tuesday at home before taking on Boston College in a CBS matchup in Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 23. Self knows his Jayhawks must get fired up for Winstom-Salem State and play with the same hunger and reckless abandon they showed vs. Florida.

If that happens, KU’s identity may begin to form as the Jayhawks seek to answer that begging question:

Who are we?

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