KU basketball players noticing ‘pretty evident’ issue during 3-game losing streak

Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com

Kansas basketball players, who have suffered through three straight defeats heading into Saturday night’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game at Kentucky, have held discussions with each other concerning the Jayhawks’ recent struggles.

Yes, there’s been communication, but apparently nothing formal such as a team meeting like the one held at Henry T’s restaurant during a trying time in the 2007-08 national title season.

“We all just came together as a team kind of after the loss here recently — just coming together to figure out what it’s going to take (to win),” junior forward Jalen Wilson said Thursday. He said “no,” asked if it classified as a “team meeting.”

Consecutive setbacks to Kansas State, TCU and Baylor have dropped KU’s record to 16-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference. Saturday’s foe, Kentucky, is 13-6 (4-3 in SEC) and on a four-game winning streak entering the 7 p.m. Central tipoff at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I think it’s pretty evident that teams have scored on us pretty easily, more than usual. I think defense and making teams playing bad and getting back to that is what it’s going to take to get these wins back piled up,” Wilson said.

“It hasn’t taken anything crazy,” he added, referring to talks among the players. “Like I said, it’s not that we don’t know what it is. We’ve just got to execute it.”

Wilson said the talk in the locker room has “been pretty much the same. We have all the great players and tools to win games, so (if) we do lose games it’s pretty evident why most of the time. Lately teams have been scoring here pretty easily on us. Our first halves haven’t been the best. Teams have gotten on us early. We’ve been trying to focus on keeping that to a limit as much as we can and starting the game out strong.”

The players and coaches, of course, communicate at various times during practice and film sessions.

“Jalen said it really well to me yesterday. When we’ve gotten behind two of the last three games, we became a good defensive team after we’d gotten behind.” KU coach Bill Self said. “The problem is there’s just not as much margin for error. You get behind and all of a sudden you have an empty possession, they make a three and now ... you’re deflated because you spent so much energy coming back. And that’s something that we need to start doing, is not putting yourself (in that position) with the margin of error being so small.”

Self is looking for his Jayhawks to get off to better starts.

They’ve trailed by double digits in the first half of the last three games — all losses.

“If anybody’s got an idea on how (to) make two of your first three shots to start a game, I’m all ears,” Self said with a smile. “Or how you can play pretty good defense and have them make a guarded three at the end of the clock. Those things happen. We just can’t continue to dig ourselves a hole where it’s away from home and you’re down 10, or even at home when you’re playing really good people. Hopefully run better stuff early, maybe try to do a couple of different things.

“But the way we play, our first five plays are scripted every game. And so going into it, we feel like if we do this, this would be a way we can see how they guard ball screens or we can see how they’re going to guard the post, or we can see if they’re going to switch in our first five plays, which could give us a better read for later on. And I think that maybe we’ve just got to execute our stuff a little bit better early.”

Self on the SEC/Big 12 Challenge

KU coach Bill Self has been a fan of the SEC/Big Challenge, which for the past nine seasons has brought together the teams in the two conferences, usually on the same day, to judge conference supremacy.

Self and other coaches, however, are not thrilled by the timing of it. It’s been a one-day event the past several seasons — a day in late January — which has served as an interruption to conference play.

“I don’t want to downplay any game, but the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is great because it’s a day our leagues get all the attention across America, but from a playing and coaching standpoint, it can’t come at a worse time,” Self said. “I heard one coach in our league talk about not playing starters this week if they’re nicked up at all, to have them healthy for sure next week.

“This game, the way it’s panned out because both leagues are so good and everything, it’s a seed line game (for the NCAA Tournament) And it’s two blue bloods playing against each other and the two winningest programs and all that stuff. That’s important (but) I guarantee you both of us (KU, UK) feel, ‘I don’t want anything to happen in this game that will affect us negatively next week.’ That’s kind of the way we feel about this game, even though it’s a big game and we’ll approach it that way.

“But this game will not have any impact on what is most important which is your second season. That includes your conference season. This one game is part of your first season which is not as important as your conference season. At least that’s how I see it.”

Asked if he would consider holding players out Saturday, Self said: “We’ll do what the game dictates us to do. We’re playing to win. There’s not much turnaround time on this. We play Tuesday (at home against Kansas State). We are going to play to win. The only reason we wouldn’t play ‘em is (if) medically we’re told they can’t.”

KU is 5-4 in the Challenge, which ends after this season. KU is 2-2 in the Challenge versus Kentucky.

Injury Report

Self gave an injury report on Cam Martin (shoulder), Kyle Cuffe (knee) and MJ Rice (back).

“Kyle’s doing pretty well. He’s not back yet, but he’s doing pretty well. He’s actually practicing in limited capacity,” Self said. “Cam actually practiced in some limited capacity yesterday, but he’s not full speed, nor do we anticipate him being full go for a while. And MJ, I’ve seen nothing, at least yesterday, that would lead you to believe that he can’t participate, because he was full go yesterday.”