BOULDER, Colo. -- They spoke with soft voices and faraway looks in their eyes. The Kansas Jayhawks seemed to be searching for something Saturday afternoon as they emerged one-by-one from a cramped visitors’ locker room at the Coors Events Center, a building they used to own.
Perhaps they were still shellshocked after watching another last-second shot find the bottom of the basket and another wild celebration for the second time in just over a week. This time it was Colorado guard Askia Booker who beat them 75-72 with a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Star freshmen Andrew Wiggins might have played his best game yet for the Jayhawks with 22 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes. He lamented a missed free throw in the final seconds that would have tied the game before Booker’s shot and seemed to dismiss as luck the game-winner that sailed over his out-stretched arm.
“He had a one out of like 50 chance of making that shot,” Wiggins said, “And he made it.”
Meanwhile, down the hall coach Bill Self stood with his back against a cinderblock wall answering uncomfortable questions after his first loss in 19 games here. Does he have a go-to guy? Why is his team struggling against zone defense? Can he coach aggressiveness into his players?
"I think you can do better than what we're doing," Self said. "Yeah, absolutely. We've got to do a better job of getting kids to be in attack mode more. Our personality is not that yet. So it's hard to play to something that you're not from a personality standpoint."
The Jayhawks were ranked No. 2 just over a week ago before losing in similar fashion to an unranked Villanova team in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Now here they were a world away at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with frigid temperatures outside and a cold feeling inside.
The Jayhawks seem to lack an identity at this early stage of the season other than being a blue blood program with the nation's top-rated recruit. Maybe they're waiting for Wiggins to figure out who he is and what he might be capable of at this level, though he's obviously not the only freshmen who must do so.
One of their biggest problems against Colorado was shooting over a zone defense CU coach Tad Boyle said he swallowed his pride to employ. They made just five of 20 3-pointers. It has become a go-to way to defend this team in the early going this season. Kansas is making slightly less than 30 percent of its attempts from behind the arc.
“We’re not playing good at all, and the pieces just aren’t quite fitting yet,” Self said. “And we’re trying to find ourselves. We’re not a real good shooting team yet, we’re not a real good passing team. We’re not a real physical team. Those are things that we have to improve on big time.”
Self said he was happy with the way his team fought back late against the Buffaloes and put itself into position to win. They overcame a nine-point deficit midway through the second half to tie it late, but too often made the mistakes young teams make like not getting back on defense and settling for jump shots.
If Colorado had shot better from the foul line than 22 of 37, there probably wouldn’t have been any drama in this loss for the Jayhawks.
"There is nothing embarrassing or awful about losing to a good team on the road in a good atmosphere,” Self said. “But we're used to winning these kinds of games. Hey, when you're playing four freshmen and basically your best team out there is four freshmen and a sophomore it's a lot to learn. We've got to go through some of the growing pains to get there I think."
Self admitted he is concerned about the lumps his team is taking and some of the mistakes it is making. At the same time he says he didn’t expect to be ‘be a great team by Christmas.’
He said the polls had the Jayhawks ranked too high to start the season, though he believes his team will eventually grow into a top-10 ranking. But there are a lot of questions that need answers before that happens and things aren’t going to get any easier.
The Jayhawks play at Florida on Tuesday with New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State coming soon after.
"Yeah, I'm concerned because we're not playing very good, but I'm not concerned because I know it's a marathon not a sprint,” Self said.
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