Bill Self on where KU basketball must improve after Illinois loss: ‘We didn’t guard’

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self sees room for improvement — major improvement — in many areas in the wake of Sunday’s 82-75 loss to No. 25-ranked Illinois in a Maui Relief exhibition game at State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois.

“Late clock, how are we going to guard ball screens, who is going to be a rim protector, pick and choose what we run rather than run every possession, ball and body movement?” Self said after the defeat caused partly by No. 1-ranked KU’s defense being torched for 11 3s in 27 attempts. KU hit just 3 of 12 3s.

“We can get stale real fast,” Self noted after KU’s second loss in four exhibition games held in the last three months. KU went 2-1 in three games played in August in Puerto Rico.

“I thought we executed some stuff pretty well,” Self noted. “They didn’t have to defend the arc and we still got a lot of easy shots the second half.”

KU hit 15 of 33 shots the second half for 45.5%. For the game, KU hit 49.2% of its shots to U of I’s 44.6%.

KU’s bench accounted for just four points, all by Nick Timberlake, who played 17 minutes. Forward Parker Braun played seven minutes, guard Jamari McDowell four minutes and redshirt candidate Zach Clemence two minutes.

“They did fine. They will not play perfect the first game. You can see potential they have,” KU senior center Hunter Dickinson said, asked to assess the play of freshman guards Elmarko Jackson and Jamari McDowell.

Jackson, who started, had four points and two assists in 26 minutes. McDowell had no points in limited duty off the bench.

Junior forward KJ Adams, who had 14 points and four rebounds in 36 minutes, said improvement figures to come after upcoming film sessions.

“There are a bunch of little things. We’re going to have some tough practices because of mistakes we made the first part of the game,” Adams said.

KU trailed 43-37 at halftime.

“I think this will be a good learning experience and we’ll do well from now on. It was a great test and environment (12,592 fans) for us to be in,” Adams said. “Obviously we didn’t do as well as we wanted to. There are things we can tighten up at practice.”

KU obviously must improve defensively, evidenced by the discrepancy in 3s.

“Well, we didn’t guard,” Self said. “If you give up 82 points on the road, you’re going to get beat. We don’t guard and we didn’t rebound. We’ve certainly got to get a lot better at that. I’ll be honest with you, other than the three guys that are returning, KJ, Dajuan (Harris, six points, eight assists) and Kevin (McCullar, two 3s, 25 points), I’m not sure that anybody else understands how we have won games away from home.

“Lets call it like it is. … If Brad (Underwood, U of I coach) comes to Kansas and gives up 82 (points), Illinois is probably not winning. If we come here or anywhere and give up 82 on the road we are not winning. Our mindset is not what is needed ... to beat a good team. Yet that’s what this game was for.”

The game was set up for KU, “to get better,” said Self. “I thought it exposed us and it did exactly what we wanted it to do. I would always rather win than not win, but we played guys a lot of minutes — more than I would have liked to — but we needed to.”

Dickinson, the Big 12’s preseason player of the year, scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

“Hunter struggled the whole game, I thought,” Self said in his postgame interview on the Jayhawk Radio Network. “Even though he made some baskets late, those were gimmies, a lot of the baskets he made late. He’s got to be much better on the glass. He’s got to protect the rim. He’s got to be able to guard ball screens, and certainly, offensively, he was not a factor.

“He was looking to score too much, early, instead of being aggressive.”

Dickinson hit 9 of 20 shots.

“We know he can score, and I think the guys were nervous. I really do,” Self said. “I think this was a pretty good wake-up call knowing we haven’t practiced our best and knowing this could happen today. There weren’t very many guys, newcomers, that actually responded the way we hoped they would.”

Illini coach Underwood thinks KU will soon be worthy of its No. 1 ranking.

“Bill is a Hall of Fame coach, best of the best,” Underwood said. “No doubt that team will win a boatload of games.”