The "T" Word

Saturday, Kansas will celebrate 110 years of college basketball. But on Thursday at his weekly news conference, KU head coach Bill Self wanted to set the record straight about 23-2 team.

Let’s make this as simple as we can.

Sometimes events occur that stick in a coach’s craw…not just for hours but even for days.

On Wednesday when Phog.net spoke to KU head coach Bill Self, he was still lamenting the lack of rebounding in the second half in Austin. On Thursday, when Self met the media at his weekly press conference, you could tell his team’s performance was still touching a nerve with the fifth year coach.  

Make no mistake about it - Self is over KU’s loss on Monday at Texas. But he may not be over the uncharacteristic lack of toughness displayed by his team.

Self was all business Thursday when he stepped to the podium for his weekly news conference and attempted to set the record straight with the media.    

“I’m not ready to say the sky is falling because we lost to a top11 team on the road by a possession but I do think that if we’d done some things differently our chances for a different outcome would’ve been much better.”

More specifically the difference-maker, according to Self, could’ve been the defensive glass, an area that KU dominated in half one (+10), and was severely outplayed in during half two (-11). Self wasn’t just referring to his big men when he spoke about the drastic turnaround on the glass – when asked about the impact the guards had on the lack of board work, Self answered, “a  lot.”

“The thing that disappointed me most about the game, win or lose, was that we didn’t compete hard on the glass in the second half after rebounding about as well as we have all year the first half,” Self said candidly.

“The second half, for whatever reason, we didn't hit anybody on a block out, we didn't attack the ball at its peak and we did not make tough plays. That is the thing that is most frustrating to me because that should be something that you should be able to pencil in every night."

As a result, the Jayhawks spent a majority of practice on Tuesday attempting to “right the ship”. Self felt it wasn’t quite necessary to bring out the pads for practice but he certainly stressed toughness. And yes, according to the man who’s won over 300 games in his career, toughness can be taught.

“You can do it by just demanding every single possession certain things. Flinching when you go after balls is not tough. You go set a screen the guy hits you and he displaces you - that’s not tough. A guy hits you on a block out and he displaces you – that’s not tough. There are a lot of things that go into being tough,” Self stated. “Those are physical things.”

“It’s not just physical, it’s mental, it’s a combination of a lot of things. You have to try to coach it because if you don’t have it, you’re not going to go anywhere. And some people have it but I’ve never coached a guy that couldn’t get tougher.”

When the “toughness” line of questioning continued, Self became animated and backed up his team saying that KU had plenty to work on but sounding any alarms was a bit premature. This Kansas Jayhawk team had one poor half on the glass, and they are far from “soft” according to their head coach.

“Who on our team is not tough?” Self asked. “That should be the question because everybody on our team is tough. We didn’t play tough one night. You cannot tell me that over time we do not have tough guys - as tough as anybody.”

Self was also emphatic about letting reporters know that KU has plenty to work on, but there is no reason for alarm.

“It’s not broken we just kind of went through a lull there and hopefully we’re working our way out of it,” Self said. “But it’s not something I’m going to make a huge deal out of. I will make a huge deal out of us not playing tough but not the fact that we lost.”

One reporter, who clearly knows that toughness is a point of emphasis with any Bill Self coached team, tiptoed around the topic by asking him a question referencing “the ‘T’ word”, but Self assured the room that this would not be something he dwells on because as a whole, his team has graded well this year in the area of toughness.

“Our guys will be motivated and use this as motivation but its’ not something that I’m going to hang onto. I’ve gotta let it go. I dealt with it on Tuesday. It’s over and now we move on.”

Kansas is moving on against a Colorado team that presents a difficult matchup on the perimeter but doesn’t exactly provide the sternest test in the rebounding department. Kansas is the conference’s best rebounding team, while Colorado ranks dead last.

The Jayhawks will play the Buffaloes on Saturday and then have the next seven days off. For Self, the timing is perfect. It gives Kansas a chance to practice and work out any kinks, and it also gives the team the chance to gear up and ready themselves for a critical stretch run.

“We’ve got six games left - three good ones at home and then three very difficult road games,” said Self referring to road contests at Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas A&M. “Anything can happen. If you’re going to make a strong push to win the league now would be the time that you really start playing your best ball.”

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