Bill Self, when asked about Elijah Johnson's slump in conference play, said he expects KU's senior guard to have a strong finish to what has been somewhat of a frustration season.
Jayhawk Slant has the very latest from Lawrence.
Bill Self on Texas' win over Iowa State Wednesday night:
"They looked good to me. (Myck) Kabongo definitely makes a difference from a speed standpoint. They can play he and (Javan) Felix together. (Sheldon) McClellan took over down the stretch. I thought they looked really good. We know how good Iowa State is and Iowa State scored the ball against them. It's just that Texas performed so much better offensively. I thought they looked like a really good team."
"I think they can play faster, although Felix has had a good year. His stats, for a freshman, are really good. It gives them another primary ballhandler. It would be kind of like putting Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson in the game at the same time, playing with Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. They play with McClellan and Lewis, which is really good, but then they can change the pace and do some different things when they put the two little guards in there together."
Self on ESPN College GameDay being in town:
"It's great. It's an infomercial for your school for 12 hours, or whatever it is, maybe 14 hours. Our fans always do a great job of showing up for that, which we, of course, hope is the case again. It definitely creates some excitement around here."
Self on the parity of the Big 12 Conference race, especially at the top of the standings:
"We've contributed to the parity with our play over that period of time. I'm not surprised at all. I've said all along that our league is better than what people on the outside gave it credit for being. It's true; we've got a legitimate shot to get at least 60 percent of our teams into the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate goal of every league, to get as many teams in as possible. I think we're right where we need to be from that standpoint. I'm disappointed that the parity has come at our expense a little bit because we were in great shape at 7-0 and then two weeks later you're 8-3. The league's good and certainly, to win the league, whoever's going to win it has to play their best ball down the stretch, there's no question about that. Our path is probably as tough, or tougher, than anyone else's. It'll take a great effort on our guys' part."
Self on if he was concerned about his team's confidence prior to Monday night:
"Absolutely. I thought that the Oklahoma State game should not have shaken us, but it did a little bit. Then our play against TCU was one that I was concerned about from a confidence standpoint. We played pretty good, offensively, against OU. We didn't make free throws, but we were above average, offensively, against OU probably. Usually when your confidence is shaken, it's more on the offensive end than the defensive end. I thought against TCU, the most shaken I've seen our team was during the game when we couldn't get the lid off the basket. We started pressing and didn't show as much poise as we should have. I think the confidence is back. It was great to play on Big Monday against a rival and play pretty well. I think the guys have moved forward from that eight or nine day stretch."
Self on who he considers to be the team leader:
"I think we do it by committee. You could make a great case for Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey. And Kevin Young provides good leadership for us in different ways. It's kind of like that '08 team, everyone always asked 'who's your leader or go-to guy?' and it was always a different guy, they did it by committee. This team is a little bit the same way. When Sherron (Collins) was here as a junior and senior, no question, it was Sherron. But we just don't have that. Last year it would have been Tyshawn (Taylor). This year, it's more by committee."
Self on if he finds Johnson's recent slump baffling:
"Saying it that way is a little too harsh. He hasn't played, for a really good player, the way he knows he can play. A lot of that goes into making shots, too. If you're making shots, the lid comes off, everything changes. As much as you talk about just worrying about the things that really matter - the intangibles, guarding, being focused, the scouting report, leading the team - in the back of your mind, you still want to make shots. It gets the gorilla off your back, so to speak. I don't think it's unusual that guys go through this. He's a far superior shooter than what his stats show. He will shoot it well. At the end of the day, I believe his stats will be very comparable to what they were last year. He's about the same (stat-wise) at this same stage (last year). We need him to play at a level that he's very capable of playing at and he knows that. And he will. I have total confidence that that will happen."
Self On the possibility of increasing Naadir Tharpe's role after his performance against Kansas State:
"He's got a pretty big role. We're playing four perimeter guys and he's one of the four so he's got a pretty big role. Whether his minutes are 18 or 24 probably depends on situations. But Naadir's had a big role for us primarily for the entire year, but certainly of late. He's played a lot more minutes here lately."
On the next step for Tharpe:
"Naadir's had some great games and then he's had some games where he didn't play as well. A lot of Naadir's situation is whether or not he's in an aggressive mindset, aggressive mode. He drove the ball and got guys shots the other day. There's a lot of times during league play that we have not gotten teammates shots. I think him staying aggressive, since he is fast and he is clever and he's good with the ball and he's got good vision and he can make a shot. He just needs to be aggressive and drive it then let that set up everything else. It's amazing to me; you play well on the offensive end and it pumps your energy up and the next thing you know, he's become a really good defender. He did a great job on Rodney (McGruder) the first half. Terrific job when Travis and Elijah got a couple of fouls."
Self on Texas if was close to becoming a rival of KU's after good games with Kevin Durant playing:
"I think Texas is a rival. It's a little different from team to team. Texas has had a good of run with players as anyone in the country over the last 10 years. They've had some guys that are making a huge difference at the next level. Our guys all look to those games. Certainly, I think our guys still see Texas as one of the biggest games on our schedule."
Self on memories of games played against Kevin Durant while a Texas Longhorn:
"If I remember right, he was pretty good. I looked at Danny (Manning), who said 'that's the baddest man who's ever played here', and I thought 'well, Wilt wasn't bad and you (Manning) weren't bad'; but that day, he was as good as any player has probably ever been in the Fieldhouse, maybe ever, against a team that was really good; a team that was designed to stop him and we had no answer. You can certainly understand why he can get 30 (points) a game in the league after seeing his two games against us. The game I remember statistically the best was in the Big 12 tournament, they had us down 32-10 to start the game and Kevin had us down 22-10 himself. This was a team that won 33 games that year and we had a really nice team and he was just killing us. Of course, we came back and made some plays and won the game but it was two pretty special days."
Self on how crucial Mario Chalmers was in the two games vs. Texas and Durant:
"The first game, he got 21 (the game in the Fieldhouse). So he was very important. I don't remember all the plays down the stretch, but if I remember right, we won the game by seven or eight, going away a little bit. I don't know if that was a vivid memory for me on him individually. When we played in the tournament, they got the big lead, we came back and got the lead then they went ahead and we ran our little chop play and they went zone and Mario made the shot at the top of the key to put it to overtime if I'm not mistaken. I think it's great for Mario to come for the Texas game because he's had some big games (against them), of course none bigger than the one in Kansas City."
Self on plans with Chalmers over his jersey retirement weekend:
"I hope so (that Mario will meet with the team). We've got a lot of guys coming back for the game. It's NBA All-Star weekend and if you're not picked, I guess you have a free weekend, so we've got a lot of guys coming back. Mario, I don't know if they play tonight or not; I think they play Oklahoma City tonight, if I'm not mistaken, so the earliest he'll get in is tomorrow. There will be a gathering tomorrow night and we'll all go to it. I'll see him tomorrow."
Self on if Chalmers will watch 'the shot' again this weekend:
"I imagine he will. He's probably seen it a quarter number of times as I have, because I've seen it a lot. But I'm sure he'll enjoy seeing it again, many times."
On KU being able to control its own destiny with a congested Big 12 race:
"Every team that's tied controls its own destiny. I could be wrong, but the teams with four losses may control their own destiny because they may play us and Oklahoma State and Kansas State. There may be five teams that actually control their own destiny, whether they win the league or not. I haven't studied the schedules that close but anytime you are tied, you control it. Obviously the games that we have left, beginning Saturday with a Texas team that's playing really, really well, we have set ourselves up for a journey that is of a great opportunity and it will certainly test us. We can know a lot more about ourselves moving forward into the post-season on how we react within the next month."
Self Monday's game against K-State acting as a springboard for Ben McLemore:
"Ben (McLemore) has been pretty good, consistently good, the whole time. The freshman averages 17 a game. I would like to see Ben get more looks, but defenses are going to be designed to pressure out and do some different things to not let him get as many shots off the catch. I thought he looked different the other day from an aggressiveness standpoint. I thought he was just terrific. Hopefully that will springboard him into staying that way and having that mindset the rest of the way."
Self on Jeff Withey's offensive performance against K-State:
"Those two (Withey and McLemore) have been really consistent. I thought Jeff (Withey) did a couple of things, even a couple of missed shots on the offensive end, that looked really good. He shot a turnaround jumper over the right shoulder, a move that he hasn't used, from about 12 feet, and I saw him using it over and over yesterday in practice. That was encouraging to see because he can really shoot the ball."
Self on if it's important for his guards to get into the paint to free up McLemore's shot:
"There's a reason why little quick guys have so many assists because they force help. It's not so much that you run a play and 'I'm going to run a cross screen, I'll throw it to you'. That happens sometimes too. But the big thing is that they get in there and make a play for a teammate by forcing help and we've got to do a better job of doing that. There have been times that we've been pretty good. Naadir was great at it the other day. That's something we emphasize every day. Elijah's very capable of doing that and he's shown he can do that. But for Ben to get as many looks as possible, he's going to have to get them off other people helping him get them. The reality of it is that you're going against a 6-5 defender that's a really good defensive guy that can really slide, that's the other team's best defender and you say 'here's the ball at the wing we have built-in help at the post, but go beat your man one-on-one'. There's not that many guys that can make that play consistently over and over and over and you can't win with that type of offense. That's why it's real important that those other guys get in there."
Self on if they thought Mario would be a huge difference maker when they recruited him:
"We thought he was going to be great. He was like the 10th or 12th-best player in the country coming out (of high school) and that year was a loaded year. We were fortunate, we really signed four of the best 15 players in the country when we got Brandon (Rush), Julian (Wright), Mario and Micah Downs. Micah Downs was a highly-recruited kid too. That was a really, really special recruiting class. But we knew Mario would be special. It took him awhile to get on track, took him awhile to get used to me and vice versa, but after he got comfortable, he was on his way."
"I think he's doing ok. He needs to see the ball go in the basket. He hasn't seen the ball go in the basket. Sometimes that happens. It's a natural progression as you try real, real hard and you don't see immediate results from trying real hard. So do you get frustrated or do you keep grinding? He's kind of going through that. He's trying real hard and his attitude's been great. He just hasn't seen the ball go in the hole yet. If he keeps going like he's going, it'll go in."
Self on the alumni pressuring or encouraging the current team to go after the conference title:
"People can make what they want out of it. To say that past players talking to our guys to motivate them because they don't care as much as they should, that's not right. That's not right at all. What would be the right deal, from a positive motivation standpoint would be 'this is what we do. This is what we did. This is what guys did last year. This is what you're going to do this year.' But not from a get-on-them standpoint. It's one of those things that can be a little frustrating as a coach but I could have sworn the Heat lost back-to-back games to the Wizards this year before John Wall was playing. I could be wrong, but seems to me like something like that happened. There's some things that go on in sports that you don't like to go on but it's actually sports. When you play sports, you have another team that prepares and you have other players that care and you have other players that try real hard and sometimes that effort is better than the effort you put out there. It hasn't happened very often here and we're proud of that.
"My wife was talking to me last night and she was saying 'You know what? We're going to win the league. We can still win the league.' And I said 'I know babe, we can do this. But if we don't, what would happen?' She said 'I don't know, I don't know, I can't remember.'
"It's one of those things that everybody around here is judged on the postseason. Don't you guys feel like the league titles, in past years, take second place to everything else? We won eight in a row but it's 'what have you done for me in the postseason?' We understand that. But now that we're tied for first, it's like the sky is falling if you don't win the league. Later on, you guys are going to say it didn't really matter as much. But it matters to our players and it matters to our staff and I know it matters to the fans, too. Certainly, we care so much about it. We've obviously made an emphasis of it to be the best in our league for a long time, or the guys wouldn't have experienced as much success as they have. But I'm not putting pressure on the guys to win the league; I'm putting pressure on our guys to get better. If we get better, I think wins and losses take care of themselves."