KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was an eerily familiar sound, and one the Kansas basketball players surely hoped they’d never hear again in this facility.
The déjà vu, though, was just beginning.
Playing in their first game of record at Sprint Center since last season’s wrenching Elite Eight defeat to Oregon, the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks tumbled to an early deficit, committing silly fouls and missing a litany of contested 3-pointers to start Wednesday night’s game versus Washington.
At one point in this poor start, that all-too-familiar sound — the same heard against the Ducks — returned.
On two separate occasions in the first half, the partisan KU crowd packing Sprint Center rose to its feet, cheering on the slumping Jayhawks in a let’s-get-it-going-type fashion with a slight hint of frustration. Occasionally, an individual shout would stand out among the building cheers, which became increasingly desperate as they returned later in the second half.
“C’mon Hawks,” the individuals would shout in an encouraging — if not demanding — tone.
Like last season, though, the pleas didn’t work. And not unlike last season, the cheers turned to awkward silence and, eventually, an early filing to the exits of the downtown arena.
“We’ve got the best fans in the world,” KU coach Bill Self said, “but certainly that effort tonight, if I had paid to see that I probably would’ve wanted something to drink over at Power & Light probably long before two minutes left.”
KU lost its first game of the season, 74-65, to the 22-point underdog Huskies, the latest in a line of disheartening defeats at Sprint Center. Lagerald Vick scored a career-high 28 points, but only one other KU player reached double-figures in the loss which saw the offensively explosive Jayhawks go 5 for 20 from 3-point range.
Senior guard Devonte’ Graham, coming off back-to-back 35-point games, finished with three points — the same total he had in the 74-60 season-ending defeat to Oregon.
KU (7-1) actually came close to fully overcoming what was once an eight-point second-half deficit, cutting the Washington (7-2) lead to one, 53-52, with 9:33 left. Vick found Azubuike on a lob-to-dunk connection that brought the crowd to a frenzy and forced a timeout from the Pac-12 representative Huskies.
But for as loud as the facility was at that moment, it was hauntingly quiet just five minutes later.
The Huskies went on an 11-2 run from that point to take a 64-54 advantage, forcing two Self timeouts along the way. Matisse Thybulle hit a 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 run and force the first timeout, then elicited the second timeout by capping the 11-2 stretch with a steal and driving dunk with 6:55 left.
The 7-0 stretch, Self said, was the difference-maker.
“(Washington) controlled it after that,” Self said. “Even though the crowd wasn’t into it, obviously, because we didn’t do much to get ’em excited, but (it was) still relatively a home game. You have momentum and it goes to one and you think, ‘Nine minutes left, we’re OK,’ and they go on a 7-0 run. They just punched us in the mouth and we didn’t recover from it at all.”
A 3-pointer by Hameir Wright gave his team a 13-point lead and served as the dagger with 4:17 left. Washington, which shot 48.3 percent from the field and made nine 3-pointers, was led by Thybulle’s 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” Self said. “I’m not going to accept this and say this is a good thing. It’s not. But you could see this coming if you’re a coach. I mean, you could see thing coming. We had a situation against Syracuse where one guy bailed us out. It wasn’t because our team played great.
“When we’re energized and moving the ball and everybody’s playing with energy I think we’re a really nice team, but when we’re not we get average really fast because we’re not extremely quick and we’re not very big. I mean, those are facts. That was evident tonight.”
The Jayhawks trailed 36-34 at the half on the heels of an opening period in which they committed 12 personal fouls and made only 2 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc — each of the seven missed treys seemingly producing a louder set of groans and “awws” from the near-sellout crowd of 17,106. Vick scored 12 in the period but was the only Jayhawk in double figures.
As happened in last Saturday’s victory against Syracuse, foul trouble again plagued KU in the opening period. Frontcourt players Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, along with Marcus Garrett, Malik Newman and walk-on Clay Young, picked up two fouls apiece in the first half. KU finished the game with 19 fouls committed with Svi Mykhailiuk (eight points on 3-for-12 shooting) fouling out.
Azubuike ended up with 10 points and nine rebounds in the contest but didn’t have the performance Self hoped against a Washington team selling out to stop the 3-pointer. The Huskies tweaked their 2-3 zone to put four defenders on the perimeter, often leaving Azubuike and Vick inside in two-on-one situations.
For that reason, Self wasn’t too high on Vick’s career-high performance on 12-for-23 shooting.
“Yeah, I’m not going to leave here thinking anybody played well, which nobody did,” Self said “The way they defended (Vick), anybody in that situation would’ve put up numbers because they forced him to shoot.
“It was a total team deal. I’m glad we had him in there but the numbers are fake because they’re not real numbers because of how they defended him.”
If the Jayhawks don’t start playing with a chip on their shoulder and simply out-scrap their opponents, Self said they’re in for “more nights like this.”
“I can’t blame this one on Sprint Center,” Self continued. “I think the blame goes on the shoulders of me and everybody else that was out there playing.”
KU continues its nonconference schedule with a 1 p.m. Sunday tilt with No. 16 Arizona State at Allen Fieldhouse.
Well after Wednesday’s game ended, Washington’s David Crisp walked across the court and past the small pocket of Huskie family and fans around the team’s tunnel. There, he spotted an old mentor whom he credits with pushing him to hoop heights like this.
“Ahh,” Crisp shouted. “I told you, boy!”
SOSINSKI SUITS UP — KU football tight end James Sosinski was suited up and on the Jayhawk bench for the first time Wednesday. Sosinski, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound sophomore, has walked on after two weeks of practicing with the team.
Sosinski averaged 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds last year with South Mountain Community College in Phoenix.
PRESTON OUT AGAIN — The Jayhawks were again without freshman forward Billy Preston, who has yet to make his collegiate debut and has missed seven straight games as the KU compliance department seeks a clearer financial picture of a vehicle Preston was driving on campus at the time of a single-car accident Nov. 11 on campus.
Preston made the trip to Kansas City but was not suited up.
WASHINGTON 74, #2 KANSAS 65
WASHINGTON (7-2) Timmins 4-5 0-3 8, Dickerson 5-13 3-4 13, Crisp 3-9 2-4 10, Thybulle 7-11 0-0 19, Nowell 7-16 2-3 17, Green 0-0 0-0 0, N.Carter 1-1 0-1 2, Wright 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 29-60 7-15 74.
KANSAS (7-1) Azubuike 5-6 0-0 10, Mykhailiuk 3-12 0-0 8, Vick 12-23 4-6 28, Graham 1-8 0-2 3, Newman 3-6 0-0 8, Lightfoot 2-3 0-0 4, Young 1-1 0-0 2, Garrett 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 28-62 4-8 65. Halftime — Washington 36-34.
3-Point Goals — Washington 9-21 (Thybulle 5-8, Crisp 2-5, Wright 1-4, Nowell 1-4), Kansas 5-20 (Newman 2-4, Mykhailiuk 2-8, Graham 1-5, Garrett 0-1, Vick 0-2). Fouled Out — Mykhailiuk. Rebounds — Washington 35 (Dickerson 14), Kansas 33 (Azubuike 9). Assists — Washington 17 (Crisp 7), Kansas 20 (Vick 7). Total Fouls — Washington 15, Kansas 19. Technicals — Crisp. A — 17,106 (18,972).