The rest of us ask how many, not how. Coaches ask how, not how many. That explains why Kansas coach Bill Self sounded a little disgusted with his team, ranked No. 1 in the nation, after it blasted Belmont, 81-51, Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
Self takes great pride in his teams exhibiting toughness. He puts far greater value in floor burns than style points. He even used the dreaded ‘S’ word (soft) to describe his team’s play. He didn’t hold back after the game, which is no coincidence given that Kansas has its toughest game of the nonconference season coming up Saturday in Philadelphia, against Temple University, the nation’s 18th-ranked team.
“We played awful,” Self said after the 30-point victory.
Kansas opened both halves with 11-0 runs, but the first-half lead was erased with Belmont’s 15-3 run.
“There were very few good moments for us,” Self said. “I thought it was a very lackluster performance, and the thing about it is we played so soft. That has been the tune all year long. Going into the season, I thought we would be tougher going after balls and things like that, but this is a group that obviously needs to make shots to play well, and that is embarrassing because there are going to be a lot of nights where you have to grind it out, especially away from home. We are going to run into one of those opponents Saturday.”
When Self talks, his players listen. They’ll be eager to show their coach all week during practice that they aren’t softies. After scoring 14 points and making six of seven field-goal attempts, sophomore forward Marcus Morris sounded as if he wanted to take the practice floor right after the game so he could show he can do better. Morris didn’t hesitate when asked where the team needed to get better.
“Rebounding,” he said. “There is no way Cole (Aldrich) should be the only one in double figures. I speak for myself, too. I had two rebounds in 21 minutes. It’s unacceptable. I talked to coach about it, and I need to find more things to help me rebound better because someone needs to help Cole.”
Kansas had 40 rebounds to 39 for the shorter, slower Bruins.
“Tonight, we couldn’t rebound worth anything,” said Aldrich, who had 14 boards. “We just need to play hard-nosed basketball. We really played hard last year, and I think we are going to play that way again this year.”
If not, Kansas will lose Saturday at Temple in the Liacouras Center, an on-campus facility that holds 10,224 spectators.
“I have very little sympathy for our team tonight,” Self said. “I thought collectively we were poor. We certainly have to get better. I am glad that we won. I would rather win by 10 and play the right way than have a lackluster deal like that tonight. Hopefully, we will get better.”
Self’s use of the ‘S’ word to describe his team surely will bring out whatever toughness it has. One player in particular, senior guard Sherron Collins, will not want to be associated with that word in any way. He’ll challenge teammates in practice and during the game. How teammates respond Saturday to challenges from their coach and on-floor leader will offer a hint as to whether they have what it takes to run the table in late March.