Before we get into Bill Self psychology — and read deeper into the coach’s postgame words following Kansas’ 70-63 victory over Oklahoma — let’s appreciate that one mystery has been solved.
We now know what it would have looked like had Lagerald Vick stayed in the corner for that late-game play against Arizona State two weeks ago.
You probably remember it: KU was down two, 22 seconds left. During a timeout, Self told his players a set they’d just run the game before in the huddle, while instructing Vick to stay in the corner instead of cutting backdoor.
Vick didn’t get the message. He went backdoor, the play was thrown off and an errant pass resulted into a turnover, killing KU’s best chance at a win.
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Well, Self called the same play from the sideline Wednesday against Oklahoma, this time with no alterations. He wanted Vick to go backdoor. And boy, was it set up perfectly.
Vick’s defender, Christian James, played above him in the corner. He was expecting a dribble handoff that KU runs so often out of this setup, which left Vick’s path to the basket wide open.
Quentin Grimes took a pass, and this was where Vick was supposed to cut to the rim. He started to, Grimes raised the ball to his forehead for a lob throw and then … Vick stopped. Self threw up his hands on the sideline. Vick circled back to the corner, taking a pass from Grimes and freelancing a contested three.
It missed. Self screamed his frustration down the bench, and motioned for someone else to go get Vick. Almost before he could turn around, Oklahoma’s Miles Reynolds had raced to the other end, putting in a layup with a foul to make a bad KU play even worse.
It was one of many head-scratching moments for Vick on Wednesday, and helps to give the context needed to fully digest some Self quotes from after the game.
Like this: “There were some good things that happened and there were also some things that were pretty evident that we have to correct, just from a mindset and chemistry standpoint.”
Or this: “We’ve got to get on the same page. I thought some individuals today when some things didn’t go well … it affected their game.”
Or this too: “I felt like that we were individuals, obviously, the second half as opposed to a team.”
Self was careful to not specifically name names. But based on what played out Wednesday, I think it’s safe to assume that Vick is part of what needs “to correct” following KU’s good-enough-but-not-too-impressive victory over Oklahoma.
There were other examples where Vick just seemed content to do his own thing. This shot in the first half — though it went in — had Self pushing the fingers on both hands into his forehead on the bench; the coach almost looked disgusted when the shot went through, knowing it was the sort of bad thought process that could lead to worse things down the line.
Sure enough, Vick only upped the degree of difficulty from there. Twice, during crucial possessions in the second half, he went one-on-one while hoisting up nearly impossible shots. Both times, he didn’t consider looking to teammates.
After the last one, Self had seen enough. He subbed Charlie Moore in for Vick with three minutes left, keeping Vick on the bench the rest of the game.
To be fair … Vick has made tough attempts like these before. One was to save the game in regulation against Stanford this year, while a few more helped bail out the Jayhawks’ offense during a close win against Villanova.
This wasn’t the time or situation, though. Vick was shooting early in the shot clock, sometimes when KU’s biggest mismatch — Udoka Azubuike inside — was not getting enough touches of his own (five field goal attempts against Oklahoma).
Self said afterward his team played like “duds” in the second half while taking a bit of the blame. He said he continued to put players in that weren’t playing well or with good energy, and that ended up costing KU some.
It comes down to this: One of Self’s greatest strengths — each year — is convincing a roster of talented players to give themselves up for the team. “The pie is big enough for everybody,” he likes to say. Winning has a way of lifting all boats.
And yet … the coach has reason to be concerned after Wednesday. While Grimes — a potential lottery pick — made of the game’s biggest plays by diving on the floor for a steal when Oklahoma’s players wouldn’t, other teammates didn’t show the same sort of selflessness.
The most pressing worry has to be Vick. While he’s saved KU earlier this year, he also remains vital for the team moving forward.
Vick can be KU’s best player on any given night. He’s shown that much already.
If Wednesday repeats itself, though, Vick also has the potential to fray the team — making others wonder if they should be looking out for themselves as well.