KU-Oklahoma State basketball
Stillwater, Okla. It wouldn’t be accurate to say the nation’s No. 1-ranked college basketball team went through the motions Saturday in a first-half debacle in Gallagher-Iba Arena. More like it went through the slow-motions.
Unranked Oklahoma State consistently beat Kansas University down-court in both directions, went harder after rebounds and showed more aggressiveness and confidence in pulling off an 85-77 upset that inspired the student body to spill onto the court in celebration.
In short, what a horrible Saturday to be a fan of Kansas basketball.
In failing to overcome a 16-point halftime deficit that grew to 19 points, KU failed to put a comfortable distance on Kentucky in the competition to secure St. Louis as a regional site. It also made Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels, who upset Wake Forest earlier in the day, the prohibitive favorites to reach 2,000 victories first.
The shot at what could have been the second undefeated Big 12 conference season died, and KU’s hold on a No. 1 national ranking loosened.
Plus, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson virtually clinched Big 12 Player of the Year honors with a 27-point effort in a game in which Sherron Collins didn’t score in the first 16 minutes and Cole Aldrich impressed his coach so little he played just eight second-half minutes.
All of which means?
If the Kansas basketball players polish their mirrors in the wake of this loss that killed a 13-game winning streak, the loss will do more good than harm for their chances of winning a second national title in three seasons.
Until it was too late to matter, the Jayhawks defended like a complacent team, and they are nowhere near talented enough defensively to get away with that against even an NCAA Tournament bubble team. It’s one thing to be told that, a far louder message when shown it.
“I feel like any team has to be scrappy,” Marcus Morris said. “We can’t just go into the game thinking we’re going to win the game just because we’re No. 1. We have to play, or we’re going to get beat again.”
Oklahoma State was in can’t-miss shooting mode, but give at least a little bit of the blame for that to a Kansas defense that didn’t show up in the first half.
“We can’t do that,” Morris said of the team playing well only for a half. “If we come out in the tournament and another team shoots us out of the game like that, we’ll go home early.”
Specifically, Morris lamented the poor job KU did in getting back on defense.
“I feel like they killed us in transition,” Morris said. “They were running right to the three-point line, and that hurt us.”
Some of the open three-pointers were the result of the Cowboys having numbers advantages in transition. Others came as a result of KU defenders failing to fight through screens.
From the outside, it’s evident this Kansas team needs to play with great defensive intensity for foes to hate playing against it. But is that as obvious to players who have gotten away with playing great defense only in spurts, gotten away with it to the tune of a 27-2 record?
The answer to that question will determine whether this team has what it takes to go the distance.