Sometimes, from the outside looking in, being a Division One head coach can seem like an incredible balancing act.
Not just with lineups or rotations, but with personalities. How does one handle various players? Go too tough or too soft, and maybe their confidence is shot or the message isn't effectively delivered. It takes touch - an incredibly deft one at that - to keep a powerful machine like the Kansas Jayhawks running smoothly.
Bill Self just might be the King of Touch.
By his own admission, Elijah Johnson didn't have a great pre-game shoot-around Thursday, at least in terms of his makes, but during Wednesday's practice he was scorching hot. And right before the game, as the team prepared to run out on to the floor, Self pulled Johnson aside and told him he noticed. He told him his stroke was looking as pure as it had all year.
That little nudge was all it took.
"I think Coach gave me a couple of words I needed to hear," Johnson said.
The junior shooting guard exploded for a career-high 26 points, including 15 in the first half, and shot a blistering 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point line, as the Jayhawks took down the Texas A&M Aggies in Thursday's Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal, 83-66.
Kansas was sluggish at the tip, and an energized Texas A&M squad took advantage, out-hustling the Jayhawks on the glass and going bucket for bucket with the Big 12 Champions.
Aggies forward Khris Middleton was particularly impressive, scoring 14 points in the first half despite Kansas wing Travis Releford sticking to him like a second shirt most of the time.
"He's taller than me, so that's an advantage, and he takes a lot of shots," Releford said. "So my goal was just to make sure none of his shots were easy."
With Robinson and Taylor off to slow starts offensively, the Jayhawks rode Johnson's hot hand until the two first-team All-Conference players got into the action themselves.
As long as Self has been the coach at Kansas, however, his teams have staked their reputation on the defensive side of the ball. It's no different with this year's squad, which again ranks in the top five in the country in defensive efficiency.
A three-pointer by Aggies guard Zach Kinsley with 10:39 left in the first stanza gave Texas A&M a five-point advantage. Self called a quick timeout to regroup, and from that point on the Jayhawks shut off the valve on Head Coach Billy Kennedy's offense - holding the Aggies to just 11 points during the remainder of the half.
"We came out slow," Releford said. "I don't know why that was, but (we took) that timeout, regrouped and just got it going after that."
Indeed they did, and as it so frequently does that defensive effort produced results on the offensive end. For the game, Kansas shot 61.4-percent from the floor, 66.7-percent in the second half, while the Aggies were held to 39.1-percent for the game.
Johnson continued his hot shoots, and Robinson, Taylor and Jeff Withey all got into the act as well. Robinson recorded yet another double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds - to go with four assists - while Taylor scored 16 points and dished out four assists of his own. Withey tallied 11 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
"It was a good win," Self said afterward. "I don't know if we played great but we shot great. I thought we actually did a pretty good job guarding theme except on the defensive boards, so it was good."
With the victory, Kansas advances to Friday's semi-final game with Baylor, who defeated Kansas State 82-74 earlier in the day behind 31 points and 11 rebounds from Perry Jones III.
Though the Jayhawks won both regular season match-ups, they're taking nothing for granted.
"They pretty much know you by the time you get to them a third time," Robinson said. "So everything has to be on point pretty much by the time you get to them."