It felt like a no-win situation well before the ball was even tipped.
The Midwest bracket whittled down to one seed Kansas and 10th seeded
Davidson - Kansas the heavy favorite – Davidson the feel good
underdog. Win the game and it was supposed to happen that way, lose the
game and it’s the kind of loss that lights up message boards
and sends columnists to their computers.
The pressure was mounting but I don’t buy that Bill Self’s job security would be in doubt if KU failed to come
through, not for one second, but I do admit my mind started to wander
and think about all the negative publicity this loss would’ve
“They don't have the same "wow" factor with the name of their
school, not being from a BCS conference or whatever, I think in some
ways maybe put a little subtle pressure on you, as well. Our guys
didn't handle it great, but we were tough enough to get the win, which
is all that matters.”
It would’ve overwhelmed anything Davidson did right and
would’ve been all about what KU failed to do. It
would’ve overshadowed a terrific season and a great group of
seniors. It was unthinkable to most.
Bill Self was college hoops version of the best golfer without a major
title and to his credit he never ducked the pressure. He answered
questions honestly and never shied away from his goals and desires. But
the honor of earning that label - and it is an honor if
you’re the “best” anything - wears off
very quickly if you’re finding it hard to shed the label. To
me for Self it was always a question of when and not if but he was 0-4
in regional finals and possibly set to join John Chaney with the most
Elite 8 appearances yet to pay a visit to college
basketball’s hallowed grounds.
“We've had a great run. At Tulsa, you get there once. You
think, ‘we'll get back’. The next year at Illinois,
we got back. You know, it's not that hard, we'll get back. Next thing
you know, it's hard. Lot of things have to go your way,”
Things finally did go Self’s way but he had to be thinking
here we go again on Sunday in this regional final as his team looked
tighter than the brand new rims at Detroit’s Ford Field.
“One thing about doubt entering into the picture with me
personally today, I felt good about -- I felt good about the situation
because going into the tournament, I thought this was our
time,” Self continued. “I thought this was the most
prepared team we had, the best team we've had. I just thought this
would be our time.”
In the end, Davidson missed open looks that they knocked down the
entire tournament and when the final shot bounded off the rim, the
gorilla on Self’s back was finally off. Afterward one
reporter referenced that there was an 800-pound gorilla running around
with his name on it. The always affable and honest Self answered,
“I thought it was 1200 pounds. 800 may have been a little
“It feels good. Just for him. He's been stuck in the Elite 8
for the last few years. This feels good just to make that push into the
Final Four for him,” according to junior Brandon Rush.
But the tough-minded Self certainly did his part to help his team grind
through this one and toss that gorilla aside.
What the Jayhawks lacked on offense, they more than made up for on
Knowing his team’s offensive struggles were putting serious
pressure on the defensive end of the court Self did his best to outwit
a precise Davidson offense – particularly sharpshooter
Stephen Curry. The possessions of box-and-one and even triangle-and-two
were enough to throw Davidson off its rhythm. The “junk
defenses” just used as a strategic change of pace not a
constant that Davidson could adjust to. Curry wasn’t nearly
as effective without being able to run off those relentless motion
He made sure there were four guards on the court during the last
possession and that his team understood that defending the three-point
line was the most important thing with KU nursing a two-point lead,
“I just told them, we are not going to let them shoot a
three,” Self told the media, “We're going to make
them be drivers. Do not let them shoot a three. From my standpoint,
that's the only way you could lose the game.”
Richards may have gotten a three off during what seemed like the
longest 16.8 seconds in Kansas history, but KU made it hard enough on
Davidson to come away with the win. When that final shot missed wide
left you could feel all of Jayhawk nation breathe a collective sigh of
That’s sure that’s how it felt for Self who was on
his knees watching the final play.
“I would say instead of jubilation, it was probably more
relief,” Self admitted. “You know, you picture the
way you picture winning a big game like that, you make a shot, you
celebrate, or something happens, you're able to go congratulate all
your coaches and your players. This was not one of those deals. I just
wanted to make sure that I hurry up and shook hands, and the officials
left the court so they couldn't put any more time back on the
It got me to thinking about Self’s career and the world we
have created in sports. A man waited as long as he did to get there and
his first emotion was relief – not joy – but
relief. This is a man who’s climbed the coaching ladder and
won over 340 games and the first reaction was relief. It certainly
explains the subdued reaction by Self and his staff. It’s
just a shame to me that the pressure we put on winning or losing
sometimes takes the joy out of moments like these.
Self is now a genius but if that shot had fallen he would’ve
spent days, and months being the goat. It’s an interesting
dynamic. Amazing how missing a shot by two feet makes a mile of
difference in how you and your career are viewed. If
Davidson’s last second prayers had been answered it
doesn’t make Self a worse coach, just like winning this game
doesn’t make him a better coach. He’s the same as
he was a week ago or a year ago it’s just that now his name
will be mentioned among the game’s best without the asterisk.
Now it’s up to KU and Self to continue their quest for a
national title. A tremendous burden has been lifted off the shoulders
of the players and coaches and there’s something to be said
with now being able to play with a free mind. After admitting on
Saturday he thinks about making the Final Four everyday, Self was asked
afterwards what he would think about now that he had finally reached a
Final Four, with a smile he answered, “winning it”.
The Wait Is Over
Phog.net Top Stories
Big 12 Recruiting Notebook (9/29/16)News, notes and recruiting scoop out of the Big 12...
Scout FootballYesterday at 8:47 AM
Big 12 Football Roundup: Week 3 Top StoriesAll you need to know about Big 12 teams leading into Week Three of the college football season.
Big 12 Recruiting Notebook (9/15/16)News, notes and recruiting scoop out of the Big 12...
Scout's Inside Recruiting ScoopSep. 14 -- What's the latest on the top recruits in the country? Scout's basketball recruiting team -- Evan Daniels, Brian Snow and Josh Gershon -- break down the latest, including…
Bruin Report Online09/14/2016
Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 2A look at the Big 12 Power Rankings after two weeks of play