AUSTIN, Texas — If nothing else, Kansas basketball’s recent funk has delivered to the team’s fan base something the tradition-rich program rarely experiences:
A new perspective.
Tuesday night’s 73-63 defeat at Texas dropped the No. 11-ranked Jayhawks (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) to 6-5 in their last 11 contests, a mark met or exceeded just three previous times in head coach Bill Self’s 16-year tenure. KU most recently went 6-5 to close out the 2014-15 season.
“Certainly disappointing, very disappointing, but we’re going through stuff 99 percent of teams in America go through. We just haven’t gone through it much here,” Self said in his postgame radio interview. “We’re just going to have to grind, lean on each other and hopefully get a little bit better in certain situations.”
Quite literally one-percenters in the world of college hoops — the team’s 2,264 all-time victories rank second in the history of the sport — KU’s uncharacteristic dysfunction can be traced back to a number of causes. It all starts, however, in the frontcourt, where lone starting big Dedric Lawson and the rest of the team has been harassed in back-to-back contests by Texas and Kentucky’s athletic, lengthy and versatile forwards.
Playing without 7-foot junior center Udoka Azubuike (season-ending wrist injury) and 6-9 sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa (indefinitely withheld as the NCAA conducts an eligibility review), Self’s suddenly undersized group can’t waste time running through “what if” scenarios.
“We’ve got the team that we’ve got,” Self said. “We’re not very big. We can’t think about what we don’t have because obviously Doke’s not coming back, and at the rate we’re doing going with Silvio we obviously haven’t sniffed getting an answer there. So this is who we are.”
Lawson struggled to a 13-point, seven-rebound performance against the Longhorns, going 4 of 15 from the floor. Meanwhile, Texas counterparts Dylan Osetkowski (16 points, four rebounds) and Jaxson Hayes (13 points, nine rebounds) thrived just one game after Kentucky forwards P.J. Washington (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Reid Travis (18 points, 12 rebounds) made hay in the Wildcats’ 71-63 victory over the Jayhawks.
KU’s season leader in both scoring (19.2 points per game) and rebounding (10.9 per game), Lawson shouldered blame for Tuesday’s setback, saying he played “poorly.” The 6-9, 235-pounder agreed with the premise he needs to perform well night-in and night-out for his team’s offense to click.
“I guess so, yeah. That’s what this team needs for us to win. I need to be consistent,” Lawson said. “It’s doing that so we have our best chance of winning. I think most of the games where I’ve played average or below average we’ve lost, so I need more consistency going out there every night and getting the job done, just making us win.”
Lawson, for the record, is averaging 18.2 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 11.8 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ five defeats. Obviously, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Despite his heavy workload and lack of frontcourt backup, Lawson claimed there’s “not a lot” riding on his shoulders when it comes to this team’s outlook.
“Just staying consistent — that’s the game of basketball,” he said. “It’s what makes you good in this game, how well you can play good at a consistent rate. That’s what dictates how good you are. You can’t be an up-and-down guy.”
Lawson believes his team correcting its offensive ailments is “definitely feasible,” pointing any fan in search of a silver lining in the direction of the nearest calendar.
“It’s not the end of the season,” Lawson said. “We’re in February, so we’ve still got a month left until March to fix things and become a better team.”
KU, which also went 6-5 during a rough stretch in the 2003-04 season and 3-6 to close out the 2004-05 campaign, next plays host to No. 16 Texas Tech at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. There, the team will look to avoid more uncomfortable history — only twice has a Self-led Jayhawk team dropped three straight games (2004-05, 2013-14).
“We’ve got to just be a little bit better in all areas,” Self said. “We can get it flipped, but right now, obviously it’s a grind. It’s a grind. (But) wins are grinds, and certainly we’ve had several of those.”
Agbaji in, Vick out
Ochai Agbaji made the most of his first collegiate start, scoring 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting with two 3s and seven rebounds. Sliding into the spot previously held by senior guard Lagerald Vick, the freshman said he learned of his ascent during a film review session following the Kentucky contest.
Self didn’t reveal whether his starting lineup swap is a long-term decision.
“He was our best player tonight,” Self said of Agbaji. “That was just a coach’s decision.”