WACO, Texas — At first glance, it’s alarming to see Kansas men’s basketball losing three straight.
Prior to Monday, only Dajuan Harris Jr. and Jalen Wilson had experienced this type of slide under trainer Bill Self. That was during the 2020-21 season in his second season at Kansas.
Then came Monday, and an away matchup against No. 17 Baylor. No. 9 Kansas entered having lost back-to-back games against other Big 12 Conference opponents who also ranked in the current Top 25. The Jayhawks suffered a 75-69 loss in a game in which they held the lead by less than a minute.
Self didn’t sound any alarm bells after the game as he reflected on his team’s recent slide from first place in the conference standings. Neither he nor the players who spoke to reporters afterward were dejected. And for Kansas to turn this around, especially with an SEC/Big 12 Challenge game in Kentucky looming, that kind of prospect can’t be dispelled.
“There is time to react negatively if your team is not doing well; this is not one of our times,” Self said. “I mean, we’ve been beaten, conceded. They beat us to a team that was projected to win the league tonight, that’s really good, and they went through the same shit we’re going through right now. We were beaten by a team (Kansas State) that is fifth in the country right now instead by one. And they beat us at home (against TCU) that could have beaten anyone in the country on Saturday. So our league is that good. It’s going to be routine.”
Self continued: “Our team isn’t talented enough to let us down when equally talented teams play better than us and we get frustrated. We don’t have as much margin for error as in previous years, and that’s okay. But you don’t have as much margin for error, and the other teams in the league are much better, which makes it difficult. So the difference in our league from the past: There are just no games where you can look at and say, ‘We can do better here.’ I mean, there aren’t any of those games.”
The first step in ensuring that three losses don’t lead to a fourth might be figuring out why Kansas has trouble keeping up with its opponent early in games. Baylor led by as many as 13 points in the first half, TCU by as many as 22 and Kansas State by as many as 14. The Jayhawks came close to winning twice, against Baylor and Kansas State, but each time the deficits took their toll.
As Wilson said, once you give another team that much confidence, it’s hard to take away that advantage. As Self admitted, Kansas’ first-half woes aren’t unique to these three losses. And while better play wouldn’t have guaranteed the Jayhawks the halftime lead in any of the three games, they would have had energy to spend later that they spent trying to claw their way back.
Against Baylor, Kansas allowed the Bears to have a plus-nine advantage in offensive rebounds and a plus-12 advantage in second-chance points. Kansas also committed 15 turnovers to Baylor’s nine and scored eight points off turnovers to the Bears’ 19. Kansas weathered Baylor’s early storm and saw success in Wilson reaching 23 points and freshman guard Gradey Dick 24, but ultimately fell short again.
“We knew tonight was going to be a tough game,” Wilson said. “It’s always a tough game in Waco, no matter what’s going on. And right now, we just have to focus on what’s next. The good thing is that we don’t play again until Saturday. So, we can rest a bit, regroup a bit and be aware of what we need to do better.”
Wilson knows that no one is going to feel sorry for the Jayhawks. He thinks the rest of the league is probably pleased to see his fall. The Kentucky game on Saturday presents Wilson and his teammates with another formidable opponent, again on the road, despite the struggles the Wildcats have faced this season.
Kentucky beat a Tennessee team that bested Kansas earlier this season. Kentucky has a home record in Lexington that rivals Kansas’ success in Lawrence. And last season, the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks.
“Get back to work, that’s all you can do,” said redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., who had a double-double against Baylor. “Short-term memory, that’s what Coach Self teaches us. short term memory Learn from it, have a great week of preparation and go out there and compete.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bill Self stays positive after Kansas loses third straight to Baylor