Norman, Okla. Kansas University’s basketball players will find out today if their own words translate into better actions — and a much-needed victory — on the basketball court.
Stinging from the program’s first two-game losing streak since the 2005-06 season, KU’s seniors called a players-only team meeting Thursday on their regularly-scheduled day off to discuss ways to assure a slump-busting victory at Oklahoma.
Tip for the battle between the Jayhawks (19-3 overall, 7-2 Big 12) and Sooners (14-7, 5-4) is 3 p.m., today in Noble Center.
“Pretty much all the seniors ... giving their speeches letting us know what we have to do now,” freshman Ben McLemore said of who did most of the talking in a locker room confab designed to “talk about things we need to do to improve and bounce back.
“Everybody got a little say-so into it. I was speaking. Even Perry (Ellis, who is known for being quiet) was talking. Now we’ve got to focus on moving forward,” McLemore added.
What did McLemore tell his teammates?
“I just said I’ve got to help more, trying to create more things for myself and my teammates. Playing out there with four seniors I can also be out there and become a leader, too,” McLemore said, acknowledging he embraced what seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young had to say.
“They said they have been through this. They know what to do. They know how to get through it. We just have to keep working hard and play Kansas basketball,” McLemore said.
The Jayhawks looked at tapes of better days — victories over Ohio State and Colorado — during the meeting.
“We saw how we pressured them and turned the ball over, saw how we were having fun and playing with energy,” McLemore said. “I feel we can give more effort and energy. Nobody is panicking. We can get through this situation and build from it and get better.”
Frosh Ellis said the meeting was productive. “It was a great experience for us. We know what we have to do and have to go out and do it,” he said of “giving better effort, doing what’s best for the team.”
KU coach Bill Self gave his approval to the meeting. A team meeting at Henry T’s was credited with helping the Jayhawks bust a slump during the 2007-2008 national title season.
“I think sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s overrated,” Self said of players meetings. “I do think it’s good for teams to talk. A lot of teams have a team meeting everytime somebody gets a hangnail. I don’t think that’s as productive, but when you have some things you should kick around and find out what guys are thinking or if guys are bothered by anything I think that’s good. I don’t know what was said. I would bet everybody felt better leaving out of it.”
Of his Jayhawk team at this stage of the season, Self said: “It’s not broke. We just need to get back to being who we are. I think we can do that.”
Record nears: KU senior Jeff Withey needs one block to tie Greg Ostertag as KU’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Ostertag, who played at KU from 1992 to ‘95, has 258 blocks to Withey’s 257. Texas’ Chris Mihm holds the Big 12 record with 264.
Slumping guard: Self on Elijah Johnson, who has hit six of his last 26 shots (three of 15 threes) in losses to TCU and Oklahoma State.
“He’s probably had better days, but to me, if you are going to put it on anybody you should put it on the head coach and usually, I hate to say it, point guards get a lot of credit when you win and point guards don’t get a lot of credit when you don’t win,” Self said. “He can handle this. He’ll put it behind him. We’ll need to help him put it behind him.
“For us to have a chance to be a really good team, we need him to play well. Elijah can take a lot of heat. He takes a lot of heat off everybody else too. Tyshawn (Taylor) did the same thing for Elijah and Jeff (Withey) and all those guys last year. Everybody got on Ty for certain things. All he did was shoulder it for everybody else so everybody else had a free mind. I think Elijah is going to be fine.”
Sooners’ leader: OU senior forward Romero Osby soaked up the festive pre-game atmosphere prior to the Sooners’ game against KU on Jan. 26 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I was making everything in warmups and thought I was going to have a great game, but sometimes it happens like that,” said the 6-foot-8, 232-pound senior forward from Meridian, Miss., who missed 12 of 16 shots in the Sooners’ 67-54 loss.
After a game like that? “You just have to go back to the drawing board,” noted Osby, who had his problems with Withey that day as KU’s big man scored 13 points with nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals in 34 minutes.
Osby did hit three of four free throws and scratched out 12 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes. Osby is the Sooners’ leading scorer (13.8 ppg) off 49.2 percent shooting and rebounder (6.5 rpg).
“Ro’s leadership has been invaluable to the entire group, but especially the young guys,” said OU coach Lon Kruger, who credited KU’s defense as the difference in the first meeting. The Sooners hit 35.6 percent of their shots (three of 12 threes) to KU’s 43.6 percent (7 of 17 threes).
“Again, it is not just the young guys that he sets the bar for. He sets it for everyone. I think our guys like Amath (M’Baye, 10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 12 pts vs KU) appreciate the fact that he is very genuine and is doing it for all the right reasons and is all about the team. No one puts more time in or works harder or is more consistent in practice than he is. That is what you want out of your leading scorer and a guy that everyone else is kind of rallying around.”
Game Day: ESPN Game Day will host a morning telecast at 9 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 16 in Allen Fieldhouse. Doors will open at 7 a.m. The morning telecast begins at 9 a.m. on ESPNU and continues on ESPN from 10-11 a.m. The event is free to the public and tickets are not required. Hosting the morning telecast will be the College GameDay crew of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Digger Phelps, who will preview the Kansas-Texas match-up and detail the day’s other college basketball action.