You got to hand it to them. If the Kansas Jayhawks' defense comes around to match the level of their talent, head coach Bill Self will have a monster heading into the month of March. As it stands, the they have some work to do on that end, but in all, they're tremendously loaded and showed it again, Monday night, as they handed Toledo its first loss of the season 93-83 inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks withstood frequent charges by the Rockets, who showed no fear, leading much of the first ten minutes. In fact, after a couple of turnovers by guard Naadir Tharpe and an overall sluggish start, Self burned a timeout less than a minute into the game to scold his team and wake them up from their holiday slumber.
"Well, they gave two of Naadir's turnovers to Wayne (Selden) so I was obviously very frustrated with him, probably as frustrated as I've been with a kid to start a game that I can remember, just not ready to play in my opinion," Self said. "Then, he actually came in and made some shots so he showed some toughness coming back and making some shots."
Kansas got going from there, with a balanced scoring attack led by their supremely young talent. Sophomore Perry Ellis bounced back from last week's blow to the head, leading the Jayhawks with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Tharpe and Andrew Wiggins each had 20 points and freshman center Joel Embiid continued his meteoric rise with 14 points, 10 boards and three blocks. Still, the defense that self prides his teams in was not there on a consistent basis and that has him concerned.
"When you have to make shots at home to win, it's not a good sign, and that's what I keep telling our guys," Self said. "We had to shoot 67 percent in the second half to make sure we won the game and that's a bad, bad sign. That's a formula for disaster. We've had some other teams that didn't guard certain nights and rely on their offense, but for a team that has struggled on the defensive end all year long because of lack of juice or whatever, to come out here at home and force four steals and eight turnovers playing at home. I'll bet you could go back to a non-conference bye game to 1990 something like that before you could ever have statistics like that."
Kansas (9-3) looks to continue gaining momentum heading into conference play when they next face Steve Fisher's San Diego State Aztecs, Sunday afternoon.
"That's going to be a little different because they're good and it won't be a game where we have to outscore them," Self said. "That will be a game where we better be as tough as them because they arguably could be the best defensive team in the country. They'll make it really hard for us to score so we have to be really tough defensively. I do think that we can play a lot better defensively and be more competitive. I think that they're good and of course this non-conference schedule certainly should have us ready for league play because our first five league games. You can't even basically take a breath almost. It was good that we were tested tonight, just disappointed we can't force any havoc defensively at home though."