A Jekyll and Hyde entry today, as I have two very different games to cover.
Saturday’s win against Baylor was KU’s best and most complete performance of the year. KU smacked them in the mouth from the beginning and the Bears not only never responded, they never looked interested in responding. It was as easy a win over a fellow Top 10 team as KU has had in years. And it could have been even more convincing: KU missed a boat-load of wide-open 3’s throughout the game.
That win gave KU a two-game lead midway through the Big 12 season. Which didn’t seem possible about two weeks ago.
Last night’s loss at Texas took away some of that shine. It was the worst kind of loss: a game that was on KU’s racket, as a tennis commentator would say, and they managed to piss away through a combination of bad luck and poor execution.
That game made me angry. It kept me up for hours last night, which hasn’t happened in awhile. It’s not like I was tossing-and-turning reliving key plays the way I used to. I just had so much frustration and adrenaline in my system that I couldn’t relax and fall asleep.
A four-point lead with just over a minute to play. Free throws coming for an 81% shooter. Two misses, a terrible Texas shot that banks in, a perfect play by KU ruined by a bad pass, a missed front end of a one-and-one moments later, and the game was gone. The Big 12 race was over if Christian Braun hits his free throws, if Tre Mitchell’s brick rimmed out like his others had, if David McCormack knocks down his free throws, if Ochai Agbaji’s lob to McCormack doesn’t hit the rim, if the entire team executes better on KU’s last possession down one.
Making a mess out of the final 65 seconds of the game was the perfect compliment to how KU fucked up the end of the first half, when KU fought like hell to tie the game, had the ball with 30-ish seconds left, and still went into halftime down five.
Those plays get magnified in a loss like this, where though the final margin was three, the game really came down to any one of several possessions. Change any one of like 10 different possessions, and KU wins.
The loss is extra frustrating because KU absolutely torched one of the best defensive teams in the country, shooting nearly 60%. While Texas took Agbaji out of the game – KU has to learn how to get him shots when teams do that – his teammates stepped up big time. They hit a ton of tough-ass shots in the first 19 minutes of the second half. I wouldn’t say KU’s defense was great, but it was solid. The Longhorns shot just 42% from the field, and 15% from three.
KU should win this game by double digits based on those numbers. It was the endless run of awful turnovers, especially in the first half, that negated all of that good. You can’t give a team 17 points off turnovers in a single half. It’s one thing to turn the ball over because Texas is forcing you into bad plays. It’s another to throw the ball right to them or into the crowd. Or to dribble the ball off your own foot or knee. Or to not protect the ball on a rebound and let Texas strip it away or force a held-ball. KU had a shit-ton of sloppy, unforced, dare-I-say soft turnovers.
So what do you take away from this game as a fan? Are you pissed that your team blew what could have been a massive win? Are you angry that this team struggles so much to take care of the ball? Are you pissed at guys who have played their asses off for nearly 40 minutes but clank free throws because they are either gassed or the moment gets to them?
Or do you focus on the good? The great shooting numbers against a terrific defense, on the road? The mental toughness to weather both a big Texas run in the first half then the absolute meltdown in the final 30 seconds before halftime, and still control the game for the next 19 minutes? At the entire team stepping up when Agbaji is taken away? At what an absolute bitch Jalen Wilson has become? How Joseph Yesufu is making some plays? How DaJaun Harris shut down James Akinjo Saturday and held Marcus Carr to 10 points on 3–10 shooting Monday? How David McCormack played as hard as he ever has in battling Texas’ bigs and the Jayhawks were a much better team with him on the court?
Realistically, I should be focusing on all that good. This team played its best basketball of the season over the past week. Winning at Texas was always going to be tough, KU played a fantastic second half and nearly got it done. There’s a lot to build on.
But when the loss comes because KU basically handed UT 11 points in 90 seconds combined across the two halves – that’s not counting the banked-in three, either – it is tough to remember all that good.