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Is Cougars’ offensive playing style sustainable in Big 12? Kansas coach Bill Self thinks so

BYU guard Dallin Hall shoots over Kansas center Hunter Dickinson during game Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Lawrence, Kan. BYU won 76-68.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — After his seventh-ranked Jayhawks were surprised 76-68 at sold-out Phog Allen Fieldhouse in front of 16,300 fans here Tuesday night, Kansas coach Bill Self was highly complimentary of the Cougars, saying the outfit from Provo is a nice addition to the Big 12.

Self, 61, was as classy in defeat as any big-time coach who has lost to BYU in recent memory.

“When we are good, we are pretty good, and when we are not, we are not,” Self said. “We played pitifully tonight. But when I say we played pitifully, that could (give) the appearance that I am taking something away from BYU. BYU was better than us tonight.

“When we are good, we are pretty good, and when we are not, we are not. We played pitifully tonight. But when I say we played pitifully, that could (give) the appearance that I am taking something away from BYU. BYU was better than us tonight.”

Kansas coach Bill Self

“After we got up 12, in the second half, they controlled it,” he continued. “We hoped to score, where they actually ran an offense to score. So give them credit. They caused us to look bad. And they were successful.”

A couple Kansas reporters tried to get Self to use the excuse that KU’s top player, graduate senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., didn’t play due to a bone bruise that has kept him out of four of the last five games. But Self wasn’t buying it. The Hawks blasted Texas 86-67 Saturday on this same court without their 19-point scorer.

Then Texas went and upset Texas Tech in Lubbock Tuesday night.

“You could feel this coming today at shootaround. I mean, we had a terrible shootaround. The focus wasn’t very good. The energy level wasn’t as good. You could feel this coming,” Self said. “… Our speed, even though I don’t consider us a fast team, our speed didn’t take away BYU’s skill. And it had to in order for us to have a good chance to win tonight.”

Self even shrugged off a suggestion that the officiating was inconsistent, overhanded, and took the home team out of its rhythm. BYU was whistled for 25 fouls, Kansas 18. Both teams made 19 free throws, but Kansas took 31 and BYU just 24. A combination of 3-pointers, free throws and defensive adjustments won the game for the Cougars.

“Yeah, there were a lot of fouls going on. But to be honest with you, they were probably fouls. … I thought they were actual fouls. I thought the officiating was fine. I didn’t see anything about it that was negative,” Self said.

If any team had reason to be disgusted with the officiating, it was BYU. Head coach Mark Pope was hit with a technical foul during a timeout for what he said was a “conversation we were having” with referee Jeb Harkness.

Earlier in the game, Kansas star Hunter Dickinson — who had one of the most forgettable games of his four-year college career — walked through a BYU huddle and bumped the Cougars’ Trevin Knell for no apparent reason. When Knell responded, Dickinson pushed him away with a forearm shiver.

Both players received class A technical fouls.

“I saw some things with guys’ frustration that really wasn’t as mature as what we should have, considering the age of some of our guys,” Self said. “There wasn’t as much of thinking next play as there was of thinking last play. And that’s not a good sign. … You could see body language and things like that.”

After Jaxson Robinson went 4 of 9 from 3-point range en route to 18 points, Self joked that Robinson’s aunt Crystal Robinson is even better than the BYU senior.

“She’s the best player ever out of Oklahoma,” Self said.

He also called BYU’s Aly Khalifa “as good of a passer as there is in America” and called Fousseyni Traore BYU’s “most effective player,” although the 6-6 junior scored just six points.

What about BYU’s offensive style? The Deseret News asked the veteran coach if shooting 30-plus 3-pointers a game is sustainable in the Big 12 moving forward.

“It is a great style. It is NBA style. It won’t be as good if you don’t have guys who can shoot. But as long as they keep recruiting guys that can shoot (it will work),” Self said. “I think their style is great. I think it is very sustainable.”

It was BYU’s fifth Quad 1 win and fourth win of the season over a ranked team. It snapped Kansas’ 19-game home win streak, Kansas’ streak of 65 straight wins at home over unranked teams (BYU was ranked in the 13 weeks preceding this one), and KU’s streak of 71 straight wins at home when it has the halftime lead.

The Cougars began Wednesday ranked 10th in the NET rankings and 15th in Kenpom.com. For the remainder of Tuesday night and well into Wednesday, they were the talk of the college basketball world.

Up next is the first matchup of the season with former Mountain West rival TCU (8-7, 19-9), which fell at Baylor on Monday.

The Cougars can ensure a non-losing league record with a win, but Jaxson Robinson said BYU is far from satisfied.

“Gritty win, coming on the road, especially here. We know a lot of people don’t beat them here, so this is really special for us,” Robinson said. “We know we are not done. We got a lot more to accomplish. This is only one step forward.”

Richie Saunders
BYU guard Richie Saunders celebrates after a game against Kansas Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Lawrence, Kan. BYU won 76-68. | Charlie Riedel