Opinion: It’s time to embrace this team’s ugly way of winning
Austin, Texas ? Do your blood pressure a favor. Enjoy the way Kansas finishes games and trust that in time your favorite basketball doctor, 10th-year coach Bill Self, will figure out a way to remove all the hideous warts you have to see leading up to the pleasant part.
The formula of winning ugly and finishing pretty doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, so you might as well get used to it.
In too-typical fashion, Kansas had to overcome a particularly long shooting slump Saturday in order to remain unbeaten in Big 12 play and extend its winning streak to 15 with a 64-59 victory against Texas.
For the fourth time in five games — Temple and Iowa State at home, Texas Tech and the Longhorns on the road — KU had trouble scoring and needed a strong finish for the victory.
Against Tech the strong finish lasted the entire second half. It didn’t kick in until much later in the Erwin Center.
Trailing by 11 points with less than 15 minutes left, by 10 points with less than 12 minutes remaining and by six with less than six left, Kansas transformed itself back into the experienced basketball team it is and finished on an 8-2 run in the final 2:18.
Somehow, no Texas lead felt safe because the young Longhorns have been blowing leads all season and Kansas knows how to win ugly and finish pretty. It’s a dangerous means of winning, but an entertaining one, warts and all.
Shaky point-guard play — at one point, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe were a combined 0-for-11 with one turnover and four assists — played the biggest part in KU’s sluggish offense.
Things turned when Self went with Tharpe, Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey for the final several minutes.
Until then, Kansas in general and Johnson in particular, couldn’t get shots to drop. Was it the defense or the shooting?
“Me personally or the team?” asked Johnson, who made one of 11 shots.
“I don’t want to talk about me personally,” Johnson said. “It’s irrelevant, but I give them respect because they play some defense, they play some good defense. I honestly say that’s the best defense we’ve gone against all year. And they never really let up. And their bench players came in and gave them some good minutes. I respect them for it. They made it tough for us.”
Johnson did get around to talking about his poor shooting day. He attributed having so many scoring opportunities close to the hoop to the Texas defense paying so much attention to center Jeff Withey.
“I took 11 layups today,” Johnson said. “Didn’t make nothing but one.”
It sounded unbelievable to him too. The strong team finish made the ugly statistic one that doesn’t matter in the standings.
“I think we dealt with the pressure well,” Johnson said of the late stages. “They had us rattled for one or two possessions maybe, but I think we took care of that by just calming our team down and just doing what we do. We’ve been in this situation too many times.”
Even when Texas’ lead grew to 11 points after a 12-0 run that lasted 2:20 early in the second half, it never felt as if the home team was going to win this one. It certainly didn’t ever feel that way to Johnson.
“No, I never think that until zeroes are on the clock, and even then I still won’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I feel like you can’t have that mindset and try to be a competitor.”
If Kansas can figure out how to compete as well for 40 minutes as it does at the end, the close calls will become less common, but for now, winning ugly beats losing pretty.