AUSTIN, Texas — His team was putting the cherry on top of its most impressive win in three years, but as Rick Barnes stalked the sidelines, it was clear the Texas coach was angry.
Not with the Longhorns.
But with their fans.
“OH-ver-RATE-ed!” Texas’ student section chanted at No. 6 Kansas, which was trailing by 14 at the time. “OH-ver-RATE-ed!”
Barnes flailed his arms and made a shooing motion as he looked into the stands, trying his darnedest to shush the hecklers. He succeeded somewhat, but that the incident even occurred left the coach peeved after the Longhorns’ 81-69 victory.
“I really think that’s the dumbest thing our fans have done,” Barnes said. “What, we just beat a team that isn’t any good? Why would you chant that? Kansas is not overrated.”
Hard as that is to fathom after the way they were molly whopped Saturday, Barnes is right. The Jayhawks aren’t overrated.
They’re simply human, which is basically how they—and their coach—defended their dismal performance Saturday at the Erwin Center. The loss dropped Kansas to 7-1 in Big 12 play. Texas improved to 6-2.
“It happens,” said forward Perry Ellis, shrugging his shoulders in the postgame press conference.
Self echoed the sentiment a few moments later, pointing out that Kansas had shot nearly 50 percent in each of its first seven league victories.
“The law of percentages was going to prevail eventually,” Self said. “We weren’t going to run the table (in the Big 12).”
It would’ve been hard to convince anyone of that in Lawrence or Kansas City the past few weeks. Or, heck, even nationally. Everyone from fans to television commentators to radio talk show hosts fawned over the Jayhawks as if they were invincible.
Kansas would coast to its 10th straight league title, they said. It wouldn’t even be close.
“We may have gotten caught up (in our success),” guard Wayne Selden said.
Self, though, hardly became complacent amid the hype. Sure, the Jayhawks have won nine straight league titles, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Four of those nine championships were shared, and they won three others by only one game.
“I said before the season that 14-4 would win it,” Self said. “I’m not sure I’m going to be far off on it. It’s going to come down to the last week.”
Self knows that all too well.
Just as they did this season, they Jayhawks started 7-0 in the Big 12 in both 2012 and 2013. Each time, they responded poorly.
Two years ago Kansas lost two of its next three contests but still finished 16-2.
Last season was much worse. A setback to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse snapped KU’s winning streak and began a string of three straight losses—included one to lowly TCU—that forced the Jayhawks to share the Big 12 title with Kansas State.
Asked what he learned from that experience, Self said: “If I learned anything, it's that it’s a long season and not to make too much out of one loss.
“We just lost to the second-place team in our league today. While I’m not leaving out of here happy by any stretch—none of us are—it’s more important to get ready for Baylor (on Tuesday) than it is to dwell on this one. I probably didn’t do that last year.”
Self apparently delivered that same message to his team following Saturday’s defeat in Austin. As they left the Erwin Center, the Jayhawks sounded as if they were already looking forward to what lies ahead instead of moping about Saturday’s performance.
Kansas seemed confident that the issues that led to last season’s losing streak don’t exist this season.
“We’ve got a tight bond,” said guard Brannen Greene. “I don’t feel like from a relationship standpoint, as a team, we’ll break down. I feel like we’ll just come together and be even stronger.”
They’ll have to be.
There’s no debate that the Big 12 is the best league in the country. Seven teams have been ranked in the top 25, including four in the top 10. Even Baylor, which is 2-6 in conference play, is gaining steam after upsetting Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Bears won despite the absence of starting point guard Kenny Chery, who is battling turf toe.
No team, though, is hotter than Texas, which is 17-4 one season after finishing 16-18. The Longhorns lost their top four scorers from that squad, although it’s clear their departures actually improved team chemistry.
Barnes, whose team has won six straight, was rumored to be on the hot seat before the season. Now it may be time to give him an extension—or at the very least, a raise.
“Their pieces fit,” Self said. “They had us on our heels the whole time. It was a dominating performance by the Longhorns.
“Texas was the hungrier team today. That’s not being negative toward my guys, because when they come to our place, we better be the hungrier team.”
If they’re not, that quest for a 10th straight Big 12 title could be in jeopardy. The Jayhawks are still the favorites—heavy favorites—to win the title, but it’s still early February.
Don’t crown them.