KU Down But Not Out

Kansas lost its second straight road game dropping the Jayhawks out of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks are learning why the road is tough place to be late in February but there's still time to make a run at another conference title.

The Kansas Jayhawks again proved life away from Lawrence can be tough on a team even if that team is as talented as KU. The Jayhawks have been remarkable away from home during Bill Self’s tenure but on Saturday they dropped their second straight Big 12 road tilt, 61-60 at Oklahoma State. That’s just the first time KU has suffered back-to-back road losses since 2005.  

Prior to conference play we talked about how KU’s Big 12 schedule wasn’t quite as favorable as last seasons with plenty of potholes in site on the road to another Big 12 title and it seems to be taking its toll on the highly ranked Jayhawks (24-3, 9-3).

In Stillwater, Kansas, coming off seven days rest, came out of the gates extremely slow. KU could muster just 10 first half field goals – but yet had 14 first half turnovers. Brandon Rush went into the locker room after 20 minutes with a donut next to his name. Leading scorer Darrell Arthur played just nine minutes after picking up two fouls – including a technical – and Kansas found itself down four (36-32). Afterwards, Self was blatantly honest with his assessment of his team’s performance.

“We stunk,” Self stated. “We stunk in large part because of OSU and I think in large part because of the crowd too. We didn’t play with much poise.”

“We played like a team…I don’t know if we were distracted, but we certainly gave the appearance of being distracted, and not as focused because we made a lot, a lot, a lot of mental mistakes. That usually comes from focus and it was really poor today.”

The Jayhawks were also on the receiving end of a fantastic performance by 5-11 Byron Eaton. The junior guard was a one-man wrecking crew for Sean Sutton’s Cowboys notching 26 points and going 16-18 from the free throw line. Once again the Jayhawks allowed an opposing guard to control the game and Eaton appeared to get in the lane at will.

“All they did the last 10 minutes was basically run out the shot clock and then play to Eaton on a high ball screen. What’s so sad is we went to soft trapping the ball screen,” Self said in disbelief. “And we put our hands on him two or three times and gave him free throws when there’s nowhere to go when you’ve got two guys on him. That’s very frustrating.”

What was also trying for Self was looking down at the stat sheet and seeing the unimpressive stat line amassed by Arthur. Shady again fouled out and played just 17 minutes, and merely put up three shots (1-3 FG), and scored just six points. KU’s talented sophomore continues to spend way to much time sitting next to the coaching staff. Kansas is clearly a much better offensive team when its versatile forward is in the game. After scoring 20 in two of his last three games, the hope was that Arthur had finally figured out how to stay on the floor and stay involved in the team’s offense – but his foul issues continue to frustrate fans and coaches.

“He’s a good player and there are not many good players out there that can produce if they’re playing only 15-17 minutes a game - so yeah, it’s frustrating. One of these days we’re going to get a good consistent 27-30 minutes from him.”

Late in the game Brandon Rush attempted spark his team to a comeback win. The first team all-league performer scored his first points with 16:16 left in the game and then decided to take over down the stretch. He single-handedly took his team from a four-point deficit to a four-point lead proving once again an assertive and aggressive Rush is one heck of a player. Rush finished with 12 points but his final attempt in the waning seconds fell short.

“We got a look, but it wasn’t a great look,” said Self referring to the final play. “In that situation you’d hope that you could get the ball going to the basket and you know we could’ve called timeout but then Sean could’ve switched defenses or done whatever so we just thought we’d go with it the way it was. That’s how we practice it.”

KU’s bench certainly wasn’t at full strength especially with Sherron Collins still nursing a sore knee. Collins played just 11 minutes and took only one shot. Collins is a key for Kansas with the energy he brings and the creativity he shows with the ball in his hands. Anytime the crafty sophomore is not available this team’s depth takes a hit. Collin’s who’s been plagued by injuries all season long admitted afterwards the knee was “still painful”, and that the whole situation was “frustrating.”

“He practiced 15 minutes yesterday and that was the first time he’d done anything since Colorado (2/16/08),” said Self. “Obviously he’s a shadow of what he can be but hopefully he’ll get back where he can help us real soon. I certainly would’ve played him more if he was capable.”

But really the entire day had nothing to do with x’s and o’s. No one should spend much time analyzing offense and defense because this Kansas team was dealing with much more than basketball this weekend.

What transpired off the court on Wednesday hit the team hard and made it difficult for anyone within the Kansas family to think about basketball. Darnell Jackson and Rodrick Stewart are both still coping with the shocking loss of two family members.

“We got a lot going on. It’s not the players’ fault they’re distracted. We had two murders this week with immediate family and I’ve never coached that before. I don’t know the coaching manual on some of that stuff,” said Self who was clearly emotional about the situation.

Afterwards Stewart, who’s brother was shot to death, admitted his brother was on his mind and that he didn’t have his head in the game. Jackson said he had no problem and that focusing on the game was easier for him - two different people dealing with death in two different ways. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time Jackson has had to deal with such senseless death but Stewart and Jackson have formed their own support system through the grieving process.

“I think they’re doing ok. Nobody wants to ever go through something like that but it happened and the best thing they can do is deal with it and I think they’ve actually done a pretty decent job as far as allowing people to help them and deal with some things that are totally senseless. It’s so sad that things can occur and ….why? I know them and their families to deal with but I do think that they’ve done a good job for the most part with that,” Self stated.

The tragedies and the Oklahoma State game are now behind them and the Jayhawks have to find a way to get ready for Iowa State and a critical stretch run in conference. The remaining tilts are all “must wins”. With two tough road games remaining (Iowa State, Texas A&M), and games at home against Kansas State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks need to play better. Sounds simple and it should be easy for a group as talented as this one.

Right now 10-2 Texas stands a top the conference alone. Rick Barnes 23-4 squad must go to Kansas State Monday and also travels to Lubbock this weekend to take on Texas Tech. Then back in Austin the Longhorns cap off the regular season with games against Nebraska and Oklahoma State – two teams who are much improved.

Kansas will likely have to win out and then get some help. Though the Wildcats will be KU’s opponents on Saturday, most Jayhawk fans will put on some purple for just one night and hope to get a little help from K-State.

Phog.net Top Stories