LAWRENCE — On one hand, Kansas basketball has earned its nine victories this season by an average margin of 23.6 points, with eight double-digit wins along the way.

On the other, however, the Jayhawks’ two defeats have come by a combined three points.

Bill Self has thoughts on which of those numbers is most telling about his team — and to the group’s national championship aspirations.

“The key to having great seasons isn’t winning games that you win by 20, it’s winning games that are decided by five,” Self said Friday ahead of the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks’ game against Stanford (11-1) at 2 p.m. Sunday at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. “If games are decided by 20, we’re going to win our fair share. It’s the tight games that you’ve got to finish, and certainly we’re 1-2 in those games.”

KU could go a long way toward reversing that trend by being better closers, a message Self delivered both in his media scrum and to his players Thursday in the team’s first practice back from the break.

The Jayhawks were in position late to win each of their two defeats — a 68-66 loss to Duke in the season opener on Nov. 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the team’s most recent outcome, a 56-55 setback to Villanova on Dec. 21 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Against the Blue Devils, KU had the ball down one with 33 seconds left but committed a turnover, with David McCormack coughing it up under the basket. Versus the Wildcats, the Jayhawks held a four-point lead with 71 seconds left, but Devon Dotson was pick-pocketed for a steal and fastbreak layup, the team surrendered a go-ahead 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, and Dotson missed the front end of a subsequent one-and-one at the free-throw line and a potential game-winning field goal attempt at the buzzer.

Even KU’s lone victory in a tight game didn’t go swimmingly, with the Jayhawks surrendering a game-tying 3-pointer with three seconds left to force overtime in an eventual 90-84 victory over Dayton on Nov. 27 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.

"We've just got to finish,” KU freshman guard Christian Braun said. “We talked about that for a long time (Thursday), just being able to execute at the end of games and just being closers. All of us have got to step up and do our thing because we each had a part in the Villanova loss. But we know what we need to do. We're going to do a better job going forward."

So what are the biggest keys to closing out a game? Self had thoughts on that, too.

“I think some of it is experience. I think some of it is just competing,” Self said. “I mean, kids gotta understand: Competing isn’t trying hard. Competing is focus and concentration and film study and playing to tendencies, things like that that don’t show up to fans who just watch the game.

“You could tell when we played Villanova that we didn’t compete — not from a try standpoint down the stretch; we didn’t compete from an execution standpoint. I mean, there was about four things that happened that was unbelievable to me that happened and I really believe it was because we lost focus. You can’t do that.”

Self said KU “totally screwed up” the end sequence against the Wildcats but indicated that Dotson, who had the roughest outing of what’s been a strong start to his sophomore campaign, has moved on and shifted his focus to the future. The Jayhawks had fouls to give when Collin Gillespie notched the late steal near midcourt, but Dotson in the moment didn’t think to take advantage of that, conceding the easy layup.

“I think when you care as much as he does then obviously those types of things may affect you more,” Self said of Dotson’s response to the defeat and his role in the outcome. “But that’s also a good thing too because he cares. He’s been fine. I’ll ride with him any day of the week and we’ll end up winning more than we don’t.”

KU’s next test will come against the upstart Cardinal, who received votes in both polls this week. Stanford's lone loss this season was a 68-67 defeat to now-No. 12 Butler on Nov. 26.

Despite his squad dropping its first true road contest of the season, Self believes this group is more equipped to handle away games than last year’s team, which went 3-8 in true road tilts.

“I think we defend better. You defend and rebound, you probably have a better chance on the road I would think. Doesn’t mean it’s always going to play out that way,” Self said. “Us losing to Villanova didn’t have anything to do with 20,700 people in the stands, where it may have had something to do if we lost last year. And us losing to Duke in The Garden didn’t have anything to do with the stage — it just had more to do with us not playing to strengths at the most opportune times and that kind of stuff.”

Perhaps the most alarming deficiency when considering the Jayhawks’ future chances at closing out tight games? That would be the team’s 245th-ranked free-throw conversion percentage (67.3%), a number that dipped against the Wildcats with a 4-for-10 showing that included Dotson's late one-and-one clank.

“More equipped (to win on the road), I hope that’s the case. But still, when you win on the road you’ve got to make free throws late,” Self said. “You’ve got to make sure you get a shot every possession. You’ve got to understand when you’re up two with 20 seconds left, the last thing you can do for a team that’s already shot 40 3s is to let them shoot another 3. That is something that we’ll learn from, but that’s all part of finishing a game.”