Self Talks Texas Rematch at Weekly Presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – No. 8/8 Kansas will welcome No. 19/17 Texas to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, focused on keeping its distance in the Big 12 Conference race. Kansas head coach Bill Self talked about what it will take to avenge the Texas loss in Austin, and several other topics, in his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon.

Q. First game against Texas, other than The Longhorns getting by the man guarding him, were there other things you could have done better with (Isaiah) Taylor?
COACH SELF: Well, I thought they had us on our heels the whole time. Their transition offense was better than our defense, and certainly our ball screen defense wasn’t any good at all. He (Taylor) did a good job. I thought he totally controlled the game. I don’t remember exactly how many he ended up with, but to me he was the guy that controlled the game.
And then the other thing, we did such a bad job on the boards. Our ball screen defense and our defensive rebounding, to me, those were the two things that killed us as much as anything.
Q. What was it about the rebounding? Cameron (Ridley) being a big dude, was he hard to move around?
COACH SELF: I don’t think it was him. I think it was (Demarcus) Holland. If I’m not mistaken, Holland wore us out, stole a lot of extra possessions for him. Yeah, Cameron (Ridley) is a big guy and those sorts of things, but we’ve played other big guys in the past, we’ve played other big teams. I think, in the league, we’ve out-rebounded, of the 13 games we played I think we out-rebounded our opponents 12 [11 in 2013-14] of them, and then the one we didn’t we obviously got whipped on the glass, and that was a big reason why they controlled the game.
Q. If you win the next two games, you would be able to clinch a piece of it at home; does that motivate you?
COACH SELF: To clinch at home? No.  Zero. I don’t think we’d clinch; I think the best we could do would be clinch a tie, isn’t that right, in that situation?
But the big thing is we can’t talk about anything past Saturday because if it doesn’t happen Saturday, it’s a one-game lead as opposed to a three-game lead. Saturday is big.
I told Bob (Davis) this yesterday: to me it’s not even about the league race Saturday, it’s about playing Texas and playing a team that’s already handled us once, and one of the residual effects is that it’s big for the league race, but also it’s just an opportunity for us to try to play better against a team that smacked us around pretty good.
Q. What is it about February that makes things tough? Part of it is maybe you’re playing a team for the second time, we saw Syracuse get beat last night at home by a team that was 6-19.
COACH SELF: I watched a little bit of that game and Boston College had 17 points with 14 minutes left in the game, something like that, and then they go on a three-point barrage.
Regardless of what people think, in football you play 11 or 12 games so you would think you would be jacked up every single week, but the reality is you’re not. And in basketball when you play 35 games or so, you’d think you could be jacked up every game, but the reality is you’re not.  Still, emotion plays such a big part of it and your energy level, and when another team gives you their best shot and you’re off a little bit, that definitely negates the talent level in large part. Plus, like you said, playing a team a second time, it’s harder to get easy baskets. People are better scouted and they make adjustments from the first game; at least that’s always been our experiences.
I think that’s a lot of it. I do think this: in a league race — it doesn’t happen all the time — but if you were to play somebody in your league early on and it’s a wide margin game, I guarantee the second game is always going to be much narrower. There’s something about how teams kind of raise their level the second time you play somebody if they’ve been handled pretty easily the first time. I don’t know why that is, but it seems like it’s always that way. You have teams that are top-five teams in the country struggling or laboring to win, especially on the road, and it’s been that way every year. It’s just the way it works in league play; you get everybody’s best shot, especially if you’re a highly-ranked team, and I guarantee that’s what happened with Syracuse last night, although I’m not an expert on Syracuse.
Q. Last year you guys were one of the best defensive teams in the country, and it seemed like it was a struggle to score sometimes. This year it’s
almost like the exact opposite.

COACH SELF: It’s not the exact opposite, but I know what you’re saying.
Q. Your offense is ranked in the top 10 or so.
COACH SELF: I think our offense is ranked No. 1 in field goal percentage in the country, and last year we were No. 1 in field goal percentage defense in the country. Isn’t that right? Am I seeing that right?
Q. Do you have a preference?
COACH SELF: Which one would I rather be good at? I would say I’d rather be good making it hard for people to score, because to me, no matter what your field goal percentage is offensively, you’re going to have some games like you had against Texas Tech that you’re not going to make shots and you’ve got to figure out a way to win those games when you don’t make shots.
I’ve said this many times: we won the Big 12 (Conference), or tied for it, when I think we shot 42 percent for the year. All our guys in their minds said, ‘If we’re not great defensively we’re not going to win,’ where now our guys’ mindset is, a lot of times, ‘If we’re shooting the ball well that game or scoring easy that game, we’ll outscore them’ as opposed to making sure they play poorly.
If I had to pick one of the two, I would rather be great on the defensive end than the offensive end. I think that’s a better formula for success over time because you’re not always going to make shots, but like I told our guys, defense always travels, so there’s no reason why you can’t be good defensively every night.
Q. A lot of the athletes that you have are young. Has it been frustrating that you haven’t been able to make teams play as poorly as you would like?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it’s been frustrating. I would say I figured we’d be really good defensively and average offensively, and it’s kind of been the opposite of what I expected going into the season.
We’re still not great offensively. We still turn it over too much and we’re inconsistent shooting the ball a lot. But we’re not as bad defensively as what I play it up to be when you look at us against other teams that we compete against on a nightly basis. I mean, we’re right there leading the league in almost every category, or right toward the top in most every category. We’re playing a Texas team (on Saturday) that’s right toward the top in most every category.
In order for us to be a great team, we’ve got to get better defensively. That’s the biggest area of improvement that we can make in my mind, and so much of it is a mindset. But also when you look at our pieces, our pieces aren’t quite the same as what they’ve been in the past. Our personalities aren’t quite the same. The guys haven’t done probably as poorly as what I play it out to be, but we’ve got to change, and we are in the process of changing our mindset so that we can compete harder on that end because when you look at two or three or four of our starters, their personality is not what Thomas Robinson’s personality is or Travis Releford and things like that. Their personality is a little bit different and more laid back, and we can’t be that way and be great on that end.
Q. Is it better defensively when you’re maybe clicking offensively?
COACH SELF: No, we’re better defensively when we suck offensively, to be candid with you. The mindset, to me, is when we’re good offensively that we’ll outscore (them). When you’re not any good offensively, usually your mindset is, ‘Oh, geez, we’d better really go hard (defensively),’ and I think that’s when we’re better offensively. At least my teams, historically, have always been best defensively when we struggle to score.
Q. If someone is not born and grew up a junkyard dog, can you turn him into one?
COACH SELF: I think that you can improve on it. I’m not sure you can exactly turn them into one, but I think you can definitely make and improve on a scale; if they’re a ‘5’ they can go to an ‘8’; if they’re an ‘8’ they can get to a ‘9’. There’s always room for improvement on that.
But it’s also a team thing, too. What I’d like to see happen as much as anything with our team, I’d like to see our point guard play. Basically we’ve said it all along; you’ve got to cut the head off, and that all starts with your point guard, and we haven’t always been able to do that at all.
You take Tyshawn (Taylor) for granted, you take Sherron (Collins) for granted, you take Russell (Robinson) for granted and Mario (Chalmers) for granted sometimes; Naadir (Tharpe) has a big challenge ahead of him because physically he’s not as big as guys like that. But he’s the one to me, and Frank (Mason), that can do a better job of maybe making other teams play poorly because their point guard isn’t comfortable, and we haven’t done a good job of that lately. I’m not just picking on them. It’s kind of the way we’re playing, but it’s also basically body type and physical ability and things like that. They’re just not very big.
Q. Did Joel (Embiid) feel okay yesterday after playing on Tuesday?
COACH SELF: Well, I mean, I actually said hello to him, so — I find out if you ask guys how they’re doing all the time, they may give you the answer that you don’t want to hear, so a lot of times you don’t ask, so that way you think they’re fine. I’m serious when I say that. I talked to him this morning, and he said he’s going to class, everything was good. I assumed his back is fine, too, then.
But it’s not his knee, it’s his back that would give him problems, if anything.
Q. How good of a shot blocker is Embiid for a freshman, about to set the record?
COACH SELF: The KU freshman record? Those records, to me, are pretty meaningless because the reason he’s breaking the record is because he’s playing more minutes than other freshmen have played maybe. (Jeff) Withey didn’t play at all as a freshman. If he had played, he probably would have blocked some shots. But I would say Joel is good, but could be great. There’s still another step for him to take there.
Whose record is he about to break? (Eric) Chenowith?
Q. Other than the defensive end of the floor, just talk about the point guards. When they’re going, and Naadir (Tharpe) specifically, if he’s going, what is he doing well to get you in the offense and everything else?
COACH SELF: He has a better feel for what’s going on than anybody else on the team. He and Joel have the best feel of anybody. He understands what we want better. Although he hasn’t shot it good the last week, he’s probably our most consistent perimeter shooter. He is our best passer to get guys shots, to create a shot off penetration and things like that. Naadir has had a good year. He’s been really solid. He doesn’t have to be great for us to be good, but he needs to be good for us to be great. Certainly, he’s capable of doing that.
I’m pleased with Naadir. He’s had a good, solid year. But defensively I think he, along with others, but certainly he can guard the ball a little bit better than what we have.
Q. Talk about the games against Texas since you have been here.
COACH SELF: We did an autograph ball signing deal yesterday. I was watching ESPN Classic, and they had the ’02 game on with (Texas’) TJ Ford and all those cats. I think the final score was like 96-96 at the end of regulation and KU won in overtime. You stop and think about it, there have been some really good players playing this series (between Texas and Kansas). I started thinking about all the great games we’ve had with them, and certainly we’ve had some, and we’ve had games that actually meant something toward the league race and things like this, and this is definitely one of those times. Hopefully it’ll be a classic, as well, after we sit back and look at it for a while.
Q. When you brought these new guys in, what did you see in them that made you think defensively they could be really sound or really good? Was it their athleticism?
COACH SELF: I would say I thought that we could run through more passes on the wing.  Not too many people have a 6’8″ 3-man (freshman G Andrew Wiggins) with length that can do some things and slide as well as he slides. I thought we’d be a little bit better than we are, but if I thought we’d be great, I probably misevaluated that because I think that this team can be good defensively. I don’t know if we can be the best defensive team we’ve ever had (here at Kansas), but I certainly think we can improve on that.
(In 2005-06) We started three freshmen and two sophomores and led the country in field goal percentage defense. Who would have thought Brandon Rush would be a great defender? He didn’t have a clue when he got here.  But that team led the country in field goal percentage defense, and he was the best defender we’ve ever had here — better than Travis (Releford), better than whoever. He was the best of those perimeter defenders.
I’m a big believer that you can teach kids to do anything. If we’re not good defensively, that’s on me because I haven’t done a good enough job of getting them to play that way. There’s no excuse for not being good on that end, in my opinion.
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