Jayhawks focused on not letting one loss become two

Kansas forward Landen Lucas gets a rebound amidst the West Virginia defense during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

There are different looks and vibes that emanate from the Kansas basketball players and coaches in the postgame media sessions that follow losses than those that exist after wins.

Equal parts anger, frustration and even shock are easy to spot and even easier to hear in their voices and the way they answer questions.

Having experienced the wrong end of a KU basketball outcome 31 times before during his five-year college career, senior forward Landen Lucas operated with poise and confidence following Tuesday’s 85-69 loss to No. 18 West Virginia in Morgantown, W.V.

“A loss, like coach has said before, it’s not the worst thing if you learn from it,” Lucas began. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose. But if you’re gonna lose, you might as well take something from it.”

It remains to be seen just what lessons the Jayhawks (18-2 overall, 7-1 Big 12) will take from Tuesday’s setback, which featured far too many WVU layups and 47 second-half points by the home team. But the veteran Lucas and freshman Josh Jackson each had a few ideas after the game.

“The worst thing we can do is take this loss and not get better from it,” Lucas said. “So the young guys gotta understand that, come practice, we’ve gotta adjust.”

Don’t mistake Lucas’ comments for finger pointing. He did not put Tuesday’s loss on KU’s underclassmen nor did he believe anybody played the way Kansas needed them to play to win. Take senior point guard Frank Mason III, for instance. Even as the Big 12’s leading scorer and one of the most experienced players in college basketball, Lucas thought Mason, too, could benefit from a long, hard look at what went wrong Tuesday.

“We have high expectations for him,” said Lucas of Mason, who shot 6-of-16 from the floor and finished with 15 points and 3 turnovers in 39 minutes. “We think he’s the best player in the country and we want him, in those situations, to be able to do other things to help the team out. I know he knows he can learn from this game and he knows that if this happens in the tournament, we’ve gotta find a different way to win the game.”

Asked where Kansas needed to improve most, the wise-beyond-his-years Jackson delivered an immediate answer.

“Definitely our on-ball defense, rebounding, boxing out. Those are probably the biggest things,” he said. “And just staying together through tough times out there.”

While this team and its seven-man rotation have proven to be close from the beginning, things only figure to get tougher from here. On Saturday, the Jayhawks travel to No. 4 Kentucky, where they will face a UK team coming off of a similarly frustrating conference road loss at Tennessee. After that, it’s back home for a showdown with Baylor, a top-10 team now tied with Kansas atop the Big 12 Conference standings in the loss column.

The Jayhawks know that if they want the joy and smiles to return to their postgame interviews, they’re going to have to play a lot better and a lot tougher than they did at West Virginia to make that happen.

“We just need to be more disciplined, because sometimes we just lose control, take quick shots, argue with the referees. We just need to be more focused on offense and defense,” said junior Svi Mykhailiuk, adding that the chance to take on an elite team like Kentucky has fallen at the perfect time for the Jayhawks. “It means a lot, because everyone’s saying don’t let one loss (become) two. We just need to regroup, forget about this loss and get ready for Kentucky.”

Added freshman Mitch Lightfoot: “I feel like we can dwell on (the WVU loss) for a couple hours, and then we’ve gotta realize that we’ve gotta change it, we’ve gotta fix it. We’ve got a big game coming up, so we’ve gotta be ready for that game.”