WACO, Texas — Kansas’ on-court shortcomings were on full display Saturday afternoon at Baylor, exposed at times en route to an 80-64 defeat.
It was in the postgame news conference, though, that coach Bill Self pulled the curtain back on a potentially more damning deficiency unrelated to the No. 10-ranked Jayhawks’ in-game ailments.
In the wake of the defeat, the team’s second in its last three contests to a bottom-half Big 12 opponent, Self admitted KU’s chemistry is “not at all” where it needs to be heading into the season’s final six regular-season contests, a stretch which will see KU fighting a potentially uphill battle to secure its record-breaking 14th straight regular-season conference championship.
“The thing that we need to do to be pretty good and have a chance to really compete at a relatively high level, the players haven’t quite bought into that totally yet,” Self said. “It’s getting late in the season to see if they’re going to buy into it.”
For proof of that, look no further than the Jayhawks’ last two starting lineups.
One game after sitting junior guard Lagerald Vick as a starter “long-term” for sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, Self on Saturday sat sophomore guard Malik Newman for freshman counterpart Marcus Garrett. The decision was made following what Self described as an unsatisfactory attitude in practice from the former five-star recruit Newman.
After revealing that nugget, Self used Newman as an example to launch into a candid explanation into what he sees as the team’s biggest roadblocks entering the season’s home stretch.
“I’m tired of, I’m really kind of tired of starting guys that don’t really put themselves in a position from what we need to do in an intangible standpoint of being out there, because to me it’s not about winning and losing from that perspective,” Self said.
“It’s about, ‘Hey, this is what we need you to do to be good,’ ‘This is what we need to do in order to give us the best chance.’ If guys don’t do that, then yeah, I’m tired of rewarding guys to start whenever I don’t feel like those things are taking place.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with making shots. You can miss all the shots you want to. But at least from an intangible standpoint, give us some stuff.”
Missed shots and defensive breakdowns both contributed to Saturday’s outcome for the Jayhawks (19-6, 8-4 Big 12).
KU went 7 for 26 from the floor in the first half en route to a season-low 20-point scoring output at the break. While the offense recovered enough to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a two-point hole with less than seven minutes left, the Jayhawks collapsed from there, surrendering 50 total points in the second period and finishing 6 for 31 from beyond the arc overall.
Nursing the two-point lead, Manu Lecomte (18 points) scored eight straight points in two minutes and 27 seconds to balloon the advantage back to double digits, where it hovered the rest of the way. Lecomte hit a pair of deep 3-pointers during the run, which saw KU commit two bad turnovers a three-possession stretch.
“He actually made two bad shots. I mean, let’s call it like it is,” Self said of Lecomte. “Those two 3s he made were probably 27-, 28-feet. He’s just a good player and jumped up and made a couple of big-time shots.”
Jo Lual-Acuil had a team-high 19 points for the Bears, who shot 56.3 percent from the field and made 8 of 15 attempts beyond the arc. In fact, the 7-foot Lual-Acuil hit one of those 3s and 6-9 forward Nuni Omot hit a team-high three treys, including a wide-open make that pushed the BU advantage to 69-57.
Lecomte, who had the assist on that make, shouted “shoot it” after finding Omot in the corner. He did, of course. The rest — the outcome, an “overrated” chant in the game’s final minute, a delayed court storming about a minute after the final buzzer — was academic from that point.
“We was down two, we had came all the way back, and just a couple of bad plays in a row,” said Devonte’ Graham, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “Next thing you know they was up eight.”
After the game, Self told his players he didn’t feel they came ready to play. He told the media he felt the Jayhawks’ energy level was average, criticized a lack of aggressiveness and awareness from 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike (eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, four rebounds in 19 foul-plagued minutes) and added, on this day, Baylor was “a lot better” than his squad.
Newman, for what it’s worth, finished with a team-high five assists, no turnovers and a team-high-tying four rebounds to go along with his 14 points.
Back to the big picture, which Self addressed in his news conference.
Every team, he said, goes through ebbs and flows during the course of a season, but he acknowledged the team is obviously going backward during a stretch which, from the outside, appears to be the softest part of its conference schedule. A 7 p.m. Tuesday contest at Iowa State will be the Jayhawks’ next opportunity to get right, but as Saturday illustrated, there are no pushovers in the Big 12 — a reality exacerbated by self-inflicted wounds both on and outside of game day.
“We just don’t have enough margin for error to have three or four guys really be into it and turned up emotionally and physically ready and maybe have one or two that maybe aren’t at their best,” Self said. “There just isn’t the margin for error. So we have to be pretty good as a unit each and every night, and today obviously we weren’t.”