(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Let’s face it. KU lost a game it shouldn’t have lost.
These kinds of losses happen to every team, no matter what the front of the jersey might read. It seems to happen less to Bill Self-coached teams though. Maybe that’s coaching. Maybe that’s having better talent. Regardless, the game in Columbia on Saturday night was one the Jayhawks simply let get away.
And it sucks.
I would have traded two losses to Iowa State for a victory at Missouri. Maybe even would have thrown in a random Texas Tech loss or something. But damn, I wanted to win this game.
It felt like a tournament game. That’s the only way I can really characterize it. Not because of the atmosphere (tournament games usually can’t compete with a good campus atmosphere) and not because of a “must-win” kind of scenario. But because it had that elevated feeling about it. Much more than any other regular season game. I got the sense many of you thought it did too.
Obviously there were conference championship implications. And of course there was the whole SEC drama. And College Gameday and primetime and the high rankings and all that stuff.
But I think the biggest thing for me was the very legitimate question about which team is better.
And I think we got a pretty good idea.
Don’t let the box score fool you. Kansas actually played pretty good defense against the Tigers. There were two stretches where breakdowns killed us, both times occurring at the end of the halves. But that was a shady 52% shooting performance by the home team.
KU fought through ball screens all night with ease. Our switches were precise. There was rarely a situation where Missouri’s “quickness” was the reason for a basket.* There was pressure and intensity and steals and hard fouls. Hell, they shot 20 free throws to our 9.** They had 10 total fouls to our 20. We were the more aggressive team. And we were the team that routinely passed the eye test.
*Ignore this entire paragraph when it comes to Conner. He’s a liability on defense that is becoming harder and harder to watch, especially against teams with attacking guards. I honestly want him to play the 4 so he doesn’t have to leave the block. A 6’5 white power forward that holds his ground in the paint is better than a 6’5 white 2-guard getting passed by possession after possession, leading to easy buckets and impending foul trouble against our bigs forced to help compensate for his inability to stay with his man. I digress.
**As for the foul disparity, I refuse to let myself use refs as a reason to say a game went one way or the other. Despite a few questionable (and a few awful) calls, we should have won the game. Short of reaching out and tripping our players, the referees are rarely an excuse for a loss. We put ourselves in a bad situation late, and MU took advantage. Refs didn’t lose the game. We did. I digress further.
Off-balance 3-pointers were swishing for the Tigers. Late shot-clock breakdown prayers were hitting the bottom of the net. Defensive hands in the face didn’t deter the ball from finding the basket.
Some nights you just have it. And to Missouri’s credit, they had it when they absolutely had to have it.
Kansas, on the other hand, got a lot of great looks. Our half-court offense looked fantastic whenever we got going inside out. I especially liked the Withey point-forward plays that got Thomas an easy entry pass nearly every time. Jeff got the ball near the free throw line and had five options with it – four open passes and a shot. He found the wing twice for good looks to Thomas. Straight out of the play book.
We got good looks in transition and off ball screens for Tyshawn at the top of the key, and in the corners for Conner. And we still missed a lot of them. Obviously we are still struggling to find any rhythm whatsoever from 3-point range. But our two best players were finding their shot on most possessions. And they were good shots. In most cases, much easier shots than Missouri could get.*
*By my count, MU only made three non-3-point baskets in the second half. On the other hand, they made 6/11 3-pointers. Most of the time, they shot 3s because that was the only option “open.” By comparison, KU made 13 layups, dunks, or short jumpers and only two 3-pointers in the second half.
I’ll take that kind of play in the long run. You can have the team that relies on 20 foot jump-shots. I’ll take the team that has the ability to get a layup or post look every possession.
Despite the foregoing, KU’s efforts were good enough to put us up 8 points with two minutes left. EIGHT. On the road. In the hardest and most “intimidating” away court we’ll play in all season long.
That’s pretty incredible. I think the most courageous of Missouri fans would admit that they were lucky to win. And that the game in Allen could be a blood bath.
For example, a friend of mine who fancies himself a huge Mizzou fan and even bigger sports junkie went to the game and texted me the following afterwards: “I think Kansas is slightly better than Missouri. Just one team was at home.” It was nice of him to admit it, but I disagree with him. I think Kansas is the better team and it doesn’t matter where we play.
I hope we see them two more times this season. It’s a real possibility.
I’ll be taking KU in both.