AUSTIN, Texas — Approximately two hours after Lagerald Vick ended one of the dozens of poor Kansas basketball possessions face-down and only moments after the final buzzer sounded on the Jayhawks’ latest face-plant, the team’s lone senior offered a blunt assessment.
“We walked in the locker room and Lagerald said, ‘We suck on the road. We’ve just got to do something different,’ ” recalled junior forward Dedric Lawson following the No. 11-ranked Jayhawks’ 73-63 defeat Tuesday at Texas. “I agree. We definitely have to do something different. We’ve just got to find ways to win on the road — I don’t know, a change of shoes or something. Something different.”
KU (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) matched its worst-ever start to conference play in coach Bill Self’s 16-year tenure, fell to 6-5 in its last 11 games and, as the team’s soft-spoken senior guard alluded to rather outspokenly, dropped to 1-5 in true road contests. The outcome spoiled a 24-point, seven-rebound performance from freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who ascended to the starting lineup in place of Vick in what Self labeled a “coach’s decision.”
The offense outside of Agbaji was the culprit behind the Jayhawks’ latest clunker.
The group sleepwalked from the outset, scoring just 14 points across the game’s first 15 minutes against a Texas (12-9, 4-4) squad that last Saturday surrendered 98 points to Georgia, what was then the Longhorns’ fifth defeat in six contests. KU committed three shot clock violations in the first half, with Vick ending two of them with the ball in his hands, one with his chest on the court.
Agbaji, the Jayhawks’ lone defibrillator, shocked the team to life, scoring seven points in an ensuing 11-1 run in a rally that was capped with his thunderous fastbreak dunk off a Marcus Garrett block from behind on the other end. The second half, though, belonged to the Longhorns — Jase Febres hit three of the home team’s five second-half treys, and Dylan Osetkowski hit 6 of 6 attempts from the free-throw line in the period to pace Texas’ 18-for-19 effort in the half.
A late Self deployment of full-court defensive pressure made for a somewhat intriguing finish — Lawson drained a 3 with 1:01 left to cut the deficit to four, 65-61, and the Longhorns committed a turnover on their next possession — but Lawson missed a second trey try with 48 seconds to play, and after missing the front end of a 1-and-1, Kerwin Roach grabbed his own offensive rebound and drained both ensuing double-bonus tries in a do-over of sorts to essentially ice the outcome.
Lawson (13 points on 4-for-15 shooting) and Vick (10 points on 4-for-9 shooting) rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Jayhawks, who shot 43.1 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers. Osetkowski (16 points) paced four double-figure scorers for the Longhorns, who went 10 of 28 from 3-point range and 21 of 23 from the free-throw line.
“Where’d it get away? Uh, I don’t know, probably — what time did we fly down here yesterday?” Self quipped. “I don’t know that we were ever really good tonight by any stretch. We were so poor offensively, got off to a bad start and played from behind. Actually had a decent stretch in the first half where we cut it to one and then didn’t score in the last possession.
“They controlled the second half. I thought we tried hard down the stretch and certainly created a little bit of havoc, but they were obviously a better team tonight than we were.”
Self stated he’s got to “find some ways to play where I can help the guys offensively,” and asked a follow-up on what that exactly means, he claimed the task of simply finding something that works on that end ultimately falls on the head coach.
“Not trying to be negative, but you play a certain way and you anticipate to have guys to play a certain way, and you don’t shoot it great and you don’t pass it great, that’s hard to do when you’re playing small,” Self said. “Pieces just don’t quite fit yet. I’ve got to find a way to get the pieces to fit better, ’cause we’ve got good pieces. I’ve just done a poor job with figuring it out.”
Self called the team’s 1-5 record in true road contests “a B.S. stat” — “Look at who we played,” he argued — but acknowledged the mark “should be better ... I agree with you 1,000 percent on that.”
Perhaps the most telling moment of the postgame news conference came when the Hall of Famer, asked whether his team’s struggles are a simple rut or sign of a lowered ceiling this season, pulled a page from Vick’s book and spoke bluntly.
“Based on where we’re at right now, I think a rut is too strong, but I don’t think our ceiling is near as high as what it’s been in years past,” Self responded. “That’s not being negative, that’s being factual. We’d be ranked No. 1 in the country if we still had Doke (Azubuike). If you think about it, we knocked out three top-10 teams when we had Doke out of nine games or whatever. Not that we would’ve won them all, I’m not saying that at all, but we’d still be right there at the very top I would think, or toward the very top, but we’re not. Our best passer (Lawson) doesn’t have anyone to throw it to right now. ...
“It’s just kind of something that we’ve got to figure out, but our ceiling is not as high. I don’t know that any team’s ceiling is as high when they don’t have their best players, all of their best players.”
Now a half-game back of first-place Kansas State and Baylor in the Big 12, KU returns to Allen Fieldhouse for a 3 p.m. Saturday tilt against No. 16 Texas Tech.
“Like Coach said in the locker room, tomorrow is a new day,” Agbaji said. “You’ve gotta look forward to Texas Tech.”
TEXAS 73, No. 11 KANSAS 63
D.Lawson 4-15 4-4 13, Garrett 1-4 0-0 2, Agbaji 8-10 6-8 24, Dotson 3-6 3-4 9, Grimes 1-5 0-0 3, Lightfoot 0-1 0-0 0, McCormack 1-1 0-0 2, K.Lawson 0-0 0-0 0, Vick 4-9 0-0 10, Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 13-16 63.
Osetkowski 5-10 6-6 16, Hayes 3-5 7-8 13, Ramey 3-5 0-0 9, Coleman 1-4 0-0 2, Roach 3-13 6-7 15, Sims 2-3 2-2 6, Mitrou-Long 0-1 0-0 0, Febres 4-9 0-0 12. Totals 21-50 21-23 73.
Halftime — Texas 26-23. 3-Point Goals — Kansas 6-18 (Agbaji 2-4, Vick 2-5, Grimes 1-3, D.Lawson 1-5, Garrett 0-1), Texas 10-28 (Febres 4-8, Ramey 3-5, Roach 3-9, Mitrou-Long 0-1, Coleman 0-2, Osetkowski 0-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Kansas 26 (Agbaji, D.Lawson 7), Texas 28 (Hayes 9). Assists — Kansas 10 (Dotson 4), Texas 13 (Coleman 4). Total Fouls — Kansas 20, Texas 13.