Benton Smith: Self masterfully pushes the right buttons, Jayhawks avoid trap game

Kansas coach Bill Self calls to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Austin, Texas. Kansas won 77-67.

— Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks have experienced more hostile environments and found ways to slow down more dynamic lineups, while tangling with some of the nation’s top teams over the course of this season. Still, Self figured, Saturday night’s game against a Texas team with a losing record could be the most challenging of the season for KU from one specific perspective.

The coach knew Kansas had more talented and experienced players to put on the floor, but that didn’t mean they would bring the energy level necessary to avoid a letdown at Frank Erwin Center, three days removed from bringing the program its 13th-consecutive Big 12 title.

“These guys have been on such an emotional roller-coaster for a couple months,” Self explained, “and you just think sooner or later they’re gonna crash. We talked about that and they came out and they didn’t crash.”

No, the No. 3 Jayhawks didn’t sputter or rest on past successes in a 77-67 road victory that gave them an outright regular-season championship. Nor did they look lethargic — though Self said he wouldn’t have gotten too upset if they had, given the circumstances.

The 14th-year KU coach didn’t have to furnish his dauntless players with a pass, because he got out in front of it earlier this week. Self knows the exact talking points to trigger the best responses out of his Jayhawks (26-3 overall, 14-2 Big 12), who played with the free minds of a group that already had secured a conference championship — the KU standard for Self’s teams.

He planted those seeds three days earlier, in the minutes following an on-court conference championship celebration, complete with commemorative T-shirts and hats, a video board tribute to the Jayhawks’ Big 12 supremacy and trophies as far as the eye could see. In the locker room, after Kansas handled TCU in Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night, Self hit his players with a concept they embraced versus the Longhorns (10-19, 4-12): the championship was theirs; now they could just play pressure-free basketball.

After KU junior guard Devonte’ Graham (12 points) joined freshman Josh Jackson (18), senior Frank Mason III (16 points) and junior backup big Dwight Coleby (12 points) in double figures at UT, Graham described how Self steadfastly finds ways to build confidence with his players.

“At practice, he don’t want nobody passing up open shots. He gets mad at us when we don’t shoot the ball,” Graham said. “It’s just that free mind you want when you catch the ball: if you’re open, just shoot the ball. Just simple things like that.”

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the idea of offensive liberty would inspire college players. The country’s preeminent coaches reach that level because they aren’t only tacticians and motivators. To an extent, these leaders of young men have to minor in sports psychology, too. Self has mastered that part of his job description — particularly this season.

So what’s the secret to tapping into their brains and pushing the precise buttons to get the desired responses? On this occasion, Self said KU avoided going backward with the help of two of the team’s leaders.

“I got on Frank and Devonte’,” Self shared. “I said, ‘Hey, this is all on you today.’ I just think they responded. I also think (all of KU’s players) like to play and like playing with each other.”

The coach wouldn’t claim his team did so with zip at UT. On the other hand, he didn’t have to worry about explaining an anticlimactic night, either.

The Jayhawks have had plenty going on — off the court, too — and Self said he challenged them by letting them know this is the time of year when good teams, really good teams and great teams all separate themselves.

“And what separates good players from really good players is basically kind of rallying around each other,” Self said, adding doing so at a time when it would be easier to let up comes with even more credit.

At ninth place in the Big 12 entering the evening, the Longhorns had as little to lose as any underdog in a power conference. But it was Self’s Jayhawks who embraced playing without a care in the heart of Texas.

By the Numbers: Kansas 77, Texas 67.

By the Numbers: Kansas 77, Texas 67.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Texas


Comments

Steve Zimmerman

I've been expecting to see this kind of team:

".. I also think (all of KU’s players) like to play and like playing with each other.” - coach Self

You can tell when we have # of assists in 12-15 range, especially when we have 3-4 players sharing the ball. Now, that's KU basketball...!!

I think, we will see double digit differentials if our players play together like this each game. What a perfect timing.
BTW, UT's trap is nowhere near that of WV. If we can handle Huggins' boys, we are ready to beat just about anybody's trap in the country. Rock Chalk!!!

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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Kent Richardson

Someone has unexpectedly sparkled in these last two games. Bragg and then Coleby. Making up for Svi's loss of confidence from outside. Bragg looked good against Texas too but Coleby believes in the put back dunk we love to watch. Coleby is a true 6' 9" physical presence. Quick off the floor and ready willing and Mabel to mix it up. He and Carlton could be our players who will peak from now until we do or die. Coleby looks like he gets gassed quicker than Bragg but that will get better I would think. They are both more rested than Landen. This team hasn't put it all together yet and with the wear and tear of the season showing a bit we may not get to see it. Man I hope we can. Now we are tough and active on defense and that coupled with our unexpected depth and production in the post could make us truly deserving of the overall number one seed. The Zags lost to BYU yesterday and I see us ascending to #1 and staying there until the Okie State game. OSU is on a 10-1 streak and are #1 in offensive efficiency in D1. OSU is at ISU on Tuesday and I will be watching to see how well they handle the ISU four guard attack. First game on 1/11 was 96-86 ISU in Stillwater. Talking about other teams as a reminder it is not over yet and in this year of no Superfly teams we are showing glimpses of a NCAA winner.

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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Tony Bandle

Hope you're right but don't be surprised even with a loss, Villanova keeps ahead us again by beating a Top 25 team, being defending NC, still having a better record and east coast favoritism rearing it's ugly head.

I think we will be #2 however.

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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Lin Rahardja

Vote daily (yes, you can vote everyday) for Frank Mason Senior Award:
http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote/...

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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Mallory Briggans

Thank you Lin for that link to vote for Frank .....anyone keeping track Frank is in 2nd place with 22% he is comfortably in 2nd but he is 10 percentage points behind a player from Gonzaga .You can vote more than 1 time so lets stuff the ballot box for Frank

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

I've not been able to say anything about this win because I had company all weekend. But I just want to say congratulations to the Jayhawks for making the conference title an outright title and securing the #1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament! I also want to say that these 1950's style throwbacks we've been wearing should be made the permanent home and away jerseys, and that a red version should be introduced as well.

7 months, 3 weeks ago

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