KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just before the second half began Wednesday, the Washington basketball team huddled outside of the tunnel they ran through to take the playing floor at Sprint Center.
The Huskies did what teams do to build an upset-minded spirit of unity. Then, one player stressed a point about swarming the arc.
The emphatic directive: “If we keep pressing the 3-point line, we’ll win.”
By doing so, KU was gifted what coach Bill Self termed “fake” numbers to leading scorer Lagerald Vick, and left all of college basketball to ponder whether something is phony about the Jayhawks. The 74-65 upset the unranked and unheralded Huskies administered was that complete, that disruptive, that stunning.
So much was defused, including any invisibility the No. 2 Jayhawks had started to establish. KU’s bubble burst on the:
— Home-court advantage everyone assumes the Jayhawks enjoy in a Kansas City home where they lost for the third time in four games (exhibitions against Missouri excluded), including an Elite Eight setback to another Pac-12 team, Oregon, the previous time the Jayhawks played at Sprint.
— Decisive spurts the Jayhawks’ previously explosive offense was capable of unleashing on opponents, in part because of the threat they posed by shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range during a 7-0 start.
— Capabilities of a senior captain, Devonte’ Graham, to take over games after scoring 35 points in each of KU’s two previous outings, but settling for a lone 3-pointer at the 4-minute mark of the first half while going 1-for-8 against Washington.
“Holding Graham to three points was just a huge part of it and you’ve got to credit these guys for executing the game plan,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said.
The 2-3 zone the Huskies used was the second such look KU explored in as many games, but tweaked considerably by Hopkins, who spent 22 seasons alongside Jim Boeheim.
Hopkins then used the tape of one game, the Jayhawks’ win last Saturday over the Orange, to add different principles and extend his defenders — including 6-foot-5 junior Matisse Thybulle against Graham — to fan out on bombers while allowing Vick and Udoka Azubuike to go “two-on-one,’’ as Self put it, against Washington’s post man.
“Just being really aware of (Graham) at all times,’’ said Hopkins, was imperative. “He’s such a great player. He makes big shots. When guys struggle, he’s going to try to make shots.
“We made it a really focus in video sessions, when he dribbles with his left hand he’s about to pop. He’s really aggressive, an All-American, and we’ve got to shut him down. If somebody else beats us, that’s great, but he’s not going to tonight.”
Radical tactics, or even an unforeseen off night from Graham, had not previously contributed to a loss by KU. Not with other bombers capable of scorching from outside and Graham so adept at feeding open shooters.
None of the Jayhawks, however, made more than two 3s against Washington. Most of their 20 attempts from behind the arc were contested, but even open shots bounded off.
Not enough was done inside, either, to capitalize on “fake” points. Vick got most of those, many uncontested, while contributing a career-high 28 points without draining a 3.
The three bigs KU plays, led by Udoka Azubuike, went 8-for-10. However, they were prone to fouls on the defensive end as Washington successfully played through junior forward Noah Dickerson and the strength he provided with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists.
Sluggish, squeamish, submissive … the Jayhawks were all those things and are no longer undefeated.
In case anyone thinks their inefficiency on offense was totally to blame, Self clarified that “our defense was horrendous and our hustle plays weren’t good either.”
Reason then, not to buy in completely to Washington’s defensive moves being an absolute blueprint for beating Kansas. Future opponents will watch the film, sure, but few are as versed on zone principles as Hopkins considering his background. Most coaches, in fact, detest playing zone. Also, Self and his staff will adjust.
Moreover, Kansas can play with more punch than it showed on a weird Wednesday at Sprint.
“We can’t count on the crowd to get us going,” Graham said. “We’ve got to be able to bring our own energy, little things like that, and just get stops.”
Something to probably bring up in a team huddle. Especially after the noise made by Washington was far from fake.
Kevin Haskin can be reached at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.