Bill Self is a basketball coach by trade, but in discussing Kansas’ three-game losing streak after Monday night’s 75-69 loss at Baylor, he dropped a wrestling analogy.
“When you’re on top and you can get riding time, it takes twice as much energy if you’re the low man in wrestling … it’s exactly the way basketball is too,” Self said. “When you’re behind, it takes more energy, everything’s magnified, it takes more effort.
“And when you’re playing with the lead, obviously you’re looser. Everything’s not life or death.”
Self and the No. 9 Jayhawks must try to end their skid in their SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against surging Kentucky on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats (14-6) were in dire straits just a couple of weeks ago before ripping off four straight wins.
The latest was a 69-53 decision on Tuesday night at Vanderbilt, the Wildcats’ 14th consecutive win against their SEC rivals. Antonio Reeves scored 16 points, giving the Illinois State transfer 68 during the winning streak.
Reeves led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring last year at 20.1 ppg, but Kentucky coach John Calipari said Reeves’ recent contributions go beyond points.
“He’s been good, very confident,” Calipari said. “Playing better defensively. Rebounding balls. Mixing it up. And he’s not just worried about offense. He’s worried about playing.”
Reeves is presently averaging 12.9 points per game, second on the team behind Oscar Tshiebwe’s 16.6. Tshiebwe is also hauling in 13.9 rebounds, putting him well on track to lead Division I in rebounding for a second consecutive season.
And Tshiebwe has been racking up the boards lately, averaging 15.8 in the last five games, including 24 as part of a 37-point effort against Georgia on Jan. 17. A foul-plagued Jan. 7 loss at Alabama marks the last time he was held in single figures in rebounding.
Self and Kansas (16-4) have first-hand knowledge of just how hard Tshiebwe is to stop down low. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds last January when the Wildcats walloped the Jayhawks 80-62 in Lawrence, arguably Kentucky’s best performance of the season.
And this Kansas team isn’t quite as equipped to handle Tshiebwe as it was last year. During its recent slide, the Jayhawks’ opponents have controlled the lane. Baylor grabbed 17 offensive boards Monday night, while TCU earned a 36-30 advantage on the glass on Jan. 21 in an 83-60 rout at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
However, the law of averages suggests the Jayhawks will return to the win column sooner rather than later. The play of Jalen Wilson is one reason why. He’s averaged 30.3 ppg over the last three games, the most for any Kansas player since Andrew Wiggins pumped in 31 ppg over a similar stretch nine seasons ago.
“We’ve just got to focus on what’s next,” Wilson said.
Kentucky owns a 24-10 advantage in the all-time series, although the Jayhawks won four of five before last year.
–Field Level Media