Bill Self 'really disappointed' with one aspect of KU basketball's play

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and the No. 6-ranked Jayhawks defeated Oklahoma 63-59 last Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, but KU was outscored in fast break points for a fourth time in five Big 12 contests. The Jayhawks will play Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Stillwater, Okla.

LAWRENCE — With recognition as the nation's sixth-ranked squad and four top-25 victories already under its belt, Kansas basketball enters the second half of its season with no shortage of reasons to be proud.

At least one facet of these Jayhawks, though, has proven a bit of a letdown to date.

“I’ve been really disappointed in how we’ve run to score,” said head coach Bill Self, speaking Monday ahead of a 7 p.m. Tuesday contest against Oklahoma State at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla. “I think we’ve done a lot of good things, (but) I don’t think we’ve run to score like we should.”

Self's comment is less an opinion and more a stone-cold fact.

The Jayhawks (10-2, 4-1 Big 12) scored just five fast break points in last Saturday’s 63-59 victory over Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse, with the Sooners eclipsing that mark in the first half alone. OU’s seven points in transition in that opening period, including Austin Reaves’ layup off a Tyon Grant-Foster turnover in the final seconds, helped the underdog visitors to a 33-31 advantage at intermission.

Now averaging 5.6 fast break points across its first five league contests, KU has been outscored in that category in four of its Big 12 tilts, the only exception a 14-12 edge in transition over TCU in the Jayhawks’ 93-64 victory on Jan. 5 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We don’t score in transition at all,” Self said Saturday. “We never score in transition.”

Part of the issue, Self noted, is the lack of “havoc” created by his team on the defensive end. The Jayhawks are averaging a league-worst five steals per game in Big 12 play; the Sooners, meanwhile, notched 10 steals Saturday en route to 17 points off turnovers.

“We don’t get deflections or steals to lead to easy baskets,” Self said. “OU took our ball four times in the first half and came away with seven points just by taking our ball, so that’s seven points they didn’t have to earn. And we have to earn everything. I really don’t know the answer on how to create that right now.”

Self elaborated on that thought Monday.

“When an opponent has an offensive miscue against us, it seems like we’re not converting on that or we’re not even stealing the ball,” Self said. “There was twice in the game against OU where they gave us the ball and we weren’t prepared to take it because we were slow reacting. That’s the kind of stuff that our activity level has got to improve.”

When the Jayhawks do get transition opportunities, their execution and aggressiveness haven’t been on point. Throwing the ball ahead more often in those situations, Self said, could alleviate some of those woes.

“When we do that we play a lot faster because obviously the ball will move faster than what we can dribble it,” Self continued. “We’re not a terrific scoring team or passing team in transition, so pitching ahead I think is something that puts more pressure on the defense and will allow us to get more opportunities as we get a little better at that.”

The fast-break outlook for the rest of the season isn’t entirely bleak.

Self noted Jalen Wilson has been “very good” in transition, labeling the redshirt freshman guard the team’s third-best option to bring the ball up on the bounce behind point guards Marcus Garrett and Dajuan Harris. Garrett, the head coach said, hasn’t been a great runner in transition so far, though Self added that’s a skill the senior can improve upon.

Garrett himself acknowledged that while facilitating others in the fast break he sometimes takes more dribbles than needed. Kicking it ahead more frequently, he said, would unlock more easy buckets, something the Jayhawks have been hurting for all season.

Some passes, Garrett said, simply have to be made.

“It could be windows that you have to basically try to force a pass in there to get two points,” Garrett said. “I feel like sometimes on the break if we don’t see the easy pass we just give up on the break.”

How, then, do players go about changing that mindset?

“Reps,” responded Garrett, “(and) just confidence in one another just knowing that your teammate is going to catch the ball or you can actually make the pass.”

Cunningham living up to hype

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State’s 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman guard and the former consensus No. 1-ranked recruit nationally in the Class of 2020, is averaging 17.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists across his first 11 collegiate contests. The Arlington, Texas, product is shooting 45.3% from the floor and 37.2% from 3-point range.

A one-time Jayhawk recruiting target, Cunningham’s poise has impressed Self.

“What I like about him the most is he’s a player. He’s just a basketball player,” Self said. “He can play one-through-four, maybe five. He rebounds his position. He’s got size. He’s got unbelievable vision. He can score at all three levels. He’s got great pace. The game’s in slow motion to him, which is very, very difficult for most young kids to feel like. I think if you ask most freshmen the game is in fast-forward. He’s got it in slow motion. That’s a tribute to his IQ and his feel and also his talent.”

Thompson questionable for Cowboy matchup

The Jayhawks’ own former five-star recruit, Bryce Thompson, has missed KU’s last three contests with a back injury suffered in late December, but the freshman guard may be close to returning.

Thompson was a limited participant at KU’s practice Sunday and could play at OSU.

“I know he’s trying to get back as soon as possible,” Self said. “The doc said he’d start improving at a pretty rapid rate in about two weeks and it’s been right at two weeks, so we think he’s day-to-day.”

Thompson averages 5.4 points on 37.5% shooting off the Jayhawk bench.

NO. 6 KANSAS AT OKLAHOMA STATE

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.

Records: Kansas 10-2, 4-1 Big 12; Oklahoma State 8-3, 2-3 Big 12

Line: KU by 3

TV/radio: ESPN+ (online streaming)/KWIC-FM (99.3) (Topeka)

Up next for KU: vs. Iowa State, 1 p.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence