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Why Bill Self believes best is yet to come for KU basketball after 59-41 win at K-State

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas junior guard Ochai Agbaji looks to score as Kansas State's Selton Miguel defends during Wednesday's game at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. The No. 23-ranked Jayhawks won 59-41.

Wednesday won’t be remembered as an all-time great Sunflower Showdown, with Kansas basketball and rival Kansas State combining for 34 turnovers and a 7-for-40 shooting output from 3 in a change-the-channel affair.

After nearly a full season of trying to get his players to adopt a very specific mindset, though, Bill Self wasn't exactly eager to apologize for the less-than-aesthetic road win.

“That’s something that we’ve been trying to get them to do for a long time,” said Self, speaking after his team’s 59-41 victory over the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, “so I’m in no way, shape or form going to diminish what we’ve done, because they’re actually doing exactly what I want them to do, is learn how to win ugly. They’re getting confidence playing that way.”

“Ugly” doesn't even begin to describe it.

Despite committing 16 turnovers and going 4 of 16 from beyond the arc, the No. 23-ranked Jayhawks (16-7, 10-5 Big 12) never trailed in capturing their fourth straight victory. K-State, which dropped its 13th consecutive contest, went 3 for 24 from 3 — Bruce Weber’s group missed its first 15 long-range tries — and committed 18 turnovers that led to 29 points for the visitors.

KU has now won five of its last six contests, a late-season surge that has helped mitigate the damage caused by the team’s 3-5 record in January. Across their five February victories, the Jayhawks have held opponents to 54.4 points per game, and K-State’s 41 points Wednesday represented the second-lowest opponent scoring output in a conference matchup in Self’s 18-year tenure (KU defeated Nebraska 92-39 on Feb. 17, 2007, in Lawrence).

“We know that if the score is in the 80s it probably doesn’t benefit us when you’re playing really good competition, because it would be harder for us to get 80 against really good competition, especially teams that guard,” Self said. “So I think our guys are bought into this.”

Self’s squad surrendered just 17 first-half points Wednesday and held a nine-point lead at the break. While the Wildcats (5-18, 1-13) cut their deficit to four on a Nijel Pack jumper with 14:02 remaining, KU responded with a knockout blow, outscoring the home team 14-3 across the next five minutes to take a commanding 15-point lead. After 30 minutes of action, David McCormack gave the game its first real highlight, with the Jayhawk junior forward converting a dunk on a Bryce Thompson lob pass. Christian Braun followed with a fast-break layup to cap the 14-3 rally and deliver a 44-29 advantage with 9:26 left to play.

K-State trailed by double figures the rest of the way.

While everybody would rather score points than not, Self said, he indicated KU needs to be realistic about where it is on that end of the court with less than two weeks left in its regular season.

“I think what our team is understanding is we need to guard like all games will be these types of games because we can labor to score so much,” Self said. “... One thing about it: You win by 18 in a low-scoring game, that’s 24 in a medium-scoring game and 28 in a high-scoring game. I think that even though it doesn’t maybe look as pleasing watching it, it’s something our team has to buy into, winning that way. If we do that we can be in the games the last five minutes against the best teams.”

Marcus Garrett hit a pair of 3s and scored 14 points and Jalen Wilson pitched in 11 points to help the Jayhawk offense, which recovered from its shaky start to convert 14 of 28 field goal attempts in the second half.

“I love where we’re at right now” Wilson said. “We have a lot of confidence on the offensive and defensive ends. We’re playing for each other on both ends. I think that we’re really just meshing well together right now. We’re on a good win streak. It’s going to be three fun games coming up.”

DaJuan Gordon scored 12 points off the bench to lead the way for K-State.

With the victory, the Jayhawks moved into a winning-percentage tie with No. 9 Oklahoma (13-5, 8-4) for second place in the Big 12. It would be “a great accomplishment,” Self stated, if KU is still at that spot in the standings after a tough regular season-ending stretch that will see it square off with No. 15 Texas Tech (1 p.m. Saturday in Lawrence), No. 12 Texas (8 p.m. Tuesday in Austin, Texas) and No. 2 Baylor (7 p.m. Feb. 27).

“I actually do (like where we’re at). I think we’re getting better,” Self said. “I think our best ball is still ahead of us. ... Nobody is going to catch Baylor, but I feel better about our team probably than I have than midway through December. I think we’re getting better. We’re just not making shots.”

NO. 23 KANSAS 59, KANSAS STATE 41

KANSAS (16-7, 10-5 Big 12)

Wilson 3-8 4-6 11, McCormack 4-7 0-0 8, Garrett 5-9 2-3 14, Braun 1-3 3-6 5, Agbaji 3-9 2-2 9, Thompson 3-4 0-0 6, Lightfoot 2-3 0-0 4, Harris 1-3 0-0 2, Enaruna 0-1 0-0 0, Grant-Foster 0-0 0-0 0, Jossell 0-0 0-0 0, Muscadin 0-0 0-0 0, Teahan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 11-17 59.

KANSAS STATE (5-18, 1-13 Big 12)

Miguel 0-5 0-0 0, A. Gordon 3-8 0-0 6, Bradford 1-2 1-2 3, McGuirl 1-11 0-0 2, Pack 3-12 0-0 6, Ezeagu 1-2 1-4 3, Kasubke 1-2 0-0 3, D. Gordon 6-13 0-0 12, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 0-0 0-0 0, Linguard 1-1 0-0 3, Honas 0-0 0-0 0, Petrakis 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 18-58 2-6 41.

Half — Kansas 26-17. 3-point goals — Kansas 4-16 (Garrett 2-4, Wilson 1-3, Agbaji 1-5, Braun 0-2, Teahan 0-1, Enaruna 0-1), Kansas State 3-24 (Petrakis 1-1, Linguard 1-1, Kasubke 1-2, A. Gordon 0-1, Miguel 0-2, D. Gordon 0-4, McGuirl 0-6, Pack 0-7). Rebounds — Kansas 35 (Wilson 9), Kansas State 36 (A. Gordon 7, Bradford 7, Ezeagu 7). Assists — Kansas 9 (Garrett 2, McCormack 2, Harris 2), Kansas State 11 (Pack 5). Turnovers — Kansas 16 (Garrett 3, McCormack 3), Kansas State 18 (McGuirl 5). Blocks — Kansas 2 (Garrett, Braun), Kansas State 1 (Ezeagu). Steals — Kansas 11 (Harris 3), Kansas State 6 (A. Gordon 3). Total fouls — Kansas 9, Kansas State 18. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — Kansas State bench. Officials — Sirmons, Petty, Smith. Attendance — 1,248.