There was a moment, late in Sunday’s KU-Purdue game, when I admitted that it had been a terrific game and I could live with a loss. It certainly helped that KU was the better team for the last three minutes of the game, but I have a feeling I would still feel that way today had Purdue been able to hold off the Jayhawks.
Which means I guess my stepping-back this year has paid off. I wasn’t going to be miserable when the season came to an end. Of course, that may change if they lay an egg next weekend in St. Louis. But for one night, I saw a payoff for my change in fandom.
Don’t confuse that with me not caring about the outcome Sunday. I was fired up, to say the least. Those of you who received texts from me throughout the game can confirm that.
When Elijah Johnson nailed his ballsy three to give KU their first lead of the game with 3:00 to play, I raced around the basement screaming and jumping over the toys that were scattered on the floor. When Tyshawn Taylor took off for the game clinching dunk, I bumped my head on the ceiling.1 I was pumped when the final Purdue shot clipped the rim and fell away.
Comeback and escape. Survive and advance.
What was great about the game was how it matched two terrific in-game coaches against each other. Matt Painter came out with a great game plan to limit KU’s offensive chances. Bill Self did what he tries to do when things aren’t going the Jayhawks’ way: manage the first half and get to halftime where he can draw up something new. That worked, as Robbie Hummel was contained for most of the second half and KU crawled back into it.
Painter’s plan on defense was still working, though, and as late as the final media timeout, it felt like KU just wouldn’t be able to find the answers.
The last two minutes featured all kinds of changes in offensive and defensive sets. Lineup adjustments. Strategic timeouts. It was fun to watch.
The thing that I kept thinking of, though, was how “great coaching moves” are still dependent on the execution by the players. Painter’s plan to smother Thomas Robinson wouldn’t have seem so brilliant if KU’s perimeter players had drilled long jumpers early. Even more important was the monster first half by Hummel. If Purdue shoots 20% in the first half instead of knocking everything down, chances are KU would have found their footing and turned it into an easy win.
Same for Self. He made some terrific personnel moves and changes in sets. He won an NCAA game with Naadir Tharpe and Justin Wesley playing significant minutes in the first half. But if Elijah Johnson doesn’t come up huge, if the defensive changes that slowed Hummel result in open shots for the other Boilermakers, which they hit, they don’t seem as smart, either.
We can analyze it a million ways, but coaching ultimately comes down to results. Often wins are as much about luck and the whims of the basketball gods as about the strings the coaches are pulling from the benches.
Robbie Hummel is awesome. People make too big a deal sometimes about players who play the game the right way. I don’t think you can talk too much about Hummel. He deserves every ounce of praise he gets.
If KU survives next weekend and makes it to the Final Four, Johnson’s three, his ridiculous alley-oop to Tyshawn, and his steal/layup for the lead in the last minute will be plays KU fans remember forever.
When the season began, I thought a realistic measure for what would be a successful KU season would be competing for the Big 12 title and making it to the second weekend of the tournament. Mission accomplished. No matter what happens in St. Louis, a team that not many people believed in has won 29 games, an eighth-straight conference title, and is one of 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament. It’s all gravy from here.
Rock Chalk, bitches.
- Our basement ceilings are low. I probably got a good 8-9 inches of air, though. ↩