Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self seriously considered skipping Saturday afternoon’s Big 12 battle against Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I thought about staying at home, which would have been fine,” Self said of being with family members in Oklahoma to celebrate the life of his dad, Bill Self Sr., who died early Friday morning at the age of 82.
Self said he visited his dad before the Jayhawks’ victory at Oklahoma last Tuesday.
“But,” Self quickly added, “my dad told me before the OU game … he was upset with me because I missed practice before that game. … ‘You don’t have your team ready God almighty.’
“After he passed yesterday morning early we decided it’d be best if I came up here because it’s what he would want me to do. He would want me to do my job: ‘You are paid to do a job.’ To win this one, that was something extra because the way we won it would have been exactly the way he lived — grind-it-out, make the most of every situation even when it doesn’t look good. That means something to me.”
Self’s dad, the man KU’s 19th-year coach has credited for instilling many things that have served him well throughout life (such as toughness), would likely have been beaming after Saturday’s 78-75 win over the WIldcats in Bramlage Coliseum, one in which KU survived an amazing 35-point onslaught from K-State guard Nijel Pack.
The Jayhawks, who were down 50-34 after 20 minutes, set a school record for biggest comeback from a halftime deficit. KU trailed UCLA by 15 points at halftime of a KU victory in the 1995-96 season and trailed Florida by 15 points after 20 minutes of a KU win during the 2014-15 season.
KU against K-State overcame a 17-point second half deficit. It’s the biggest overall deficit overcome by KU in a road victory. The Jayhawks trailed West Virginia by 16 points in Morgantown during the 2017-18 season.
“He would appreciate that,” Self said of those stats involving comeback wins. “He would be the first one to say, ‘God-dang, you guys don’t guard anybody, this this and that,’ but he would have respected how hard the kids tried. It would have been special for him.”
Self, who has not spent much time with the team lately — he traveled to Oklahoma right after last Saturday’s home win against West Virginia, only making it back for Friday’s practice before the Kansas State game — let his team know it’d be nice for personal reasons for KU to prevail on Saturday.
“We talked last night … Coach told us how much it meant to him. He told us he really doesn’t like K-State but said his dad was one of the biggest K-State haters there is,” said KU junior guard Christian Braun, who had 11 points and five assists for the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks (16-2, 5-1). “He told us this game means a lot to him but it means more to his dad.”
Braun said Self “didn’t talk much about his dad in the locker room (Saturday).”
The Jayhawks starters got together to huddle before taking the court down 16 to start the second half.
“We felt we’d be letting him down if we didn’t give our best effort second half,” Braun said. “We had to win for Coach. Last night that was our message. It was our message today. We got punched in the face, but fought back to win.”
KU senior guard Ochai Agbaji hit a driving layup with nine seconds to play to give the Jayhawks a 76-75 lead over K-State (10-8, 2-5). Pack, who was 8 of 12 from three missed a possible game-winning three with four seconds left. Agbaji grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit two free throws with 1 second left to account for the three-point margin of victory.
Self’s postgame speech was brief: “You guys know this … this one meant something to me, so thank you,” Self told his team during a moment filmed by KU’s official basketball Twitter account.
“Pretty emotional,” Self told the media, referring to his feelings about the game. “I’m proud of my guys, pretty proud for a lot of reasons today.”
“You guys know this. This one meant something to me.” pic.twitter.com/hZQAp1gDDi
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) January 23, 2022
Pack’s performance for K-State brought to mind some other big games by K-State players against KU during the 19-year Self era.
Jacob Pullen scored 38 against the Jayhawks in Manhattan during the 2010-11 season; Michael Beasley had 39 during the 2007-08 season in Lawrence.
“Give K-State credit. They were unbelievable the first half. We weren’t very good. They were a lot better than we were bad, Pack was a first-team all-American today, no doubt about that. He may have been the best guard in America today. We may have had the best wing in America today,” Self said of Agbaji, who hit 10 of 18 shots and 7 of 11 free throws en route to his career-high tying 29 points.
Self said unsung heroes for KU were David McCormack and Jalen Wilson, who had 15 and 10 rebounds respectively. KU outboarded the Cats 45-23.
“That’s where we won the game,” Self said. “They played better than us. We were pretty tough on the glass.”
And he lauded Dajuan Harris for guarding Pack the entire second half. Pack had 22 points the first half; 13 the second.
“Juan did a good job on him the second half,” Self said.
KU will next meet Texas Tech at 8 p.m. Monday in Allen Fieldhouse.