Another memorable Kansas season ends short of Final Four
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas will be lost to graduation, Josh Jackson is likely headed to the NBA, and very little about Kansas next season will look remotely the same.
That only makes things harder.
After a frustrating loss to Oregon in the Midwest Regional semifinals ended the Jayhawks' season a week earlier than they had hoped, the only thing they want to do is look to the future.
Yet that gaze is met with so much uncertainty.
''I don't really know. It's my first time being in this position,'' Jackson said in a morose locker room shortly after the Ducks punched their ticket to the Final Four with a 74-60 victory at the Sprint Center on Saturday night.
''The feeling right now, it really hurts. It hurts more to see guys around me. Just seeing the seniors. We really wanted to send them out the right way. It just hurts we couldn't do that.''
The reality is this: Kansas won 31 games and its 13th consecutive Big 12 championship, Mason put up the kind of numbers that will one day get his jersey hung from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse, and Jackson left an indelible mark on the program even if his stay lasts just one season.
But the perception among many will be this: The Jayhawks' season was a failure because they lost in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, and then blew a chance to make it back to the Final Four on a night where their offense suddenly cooled off and their defense never showed up.
''We shouldn't hold our heads down about nothing,'' said junior guard Devonte Graham, who was 0 for 7 from the field. ''Had a terrific season. Hate it to end.''
Graham slouched in his chair as he answered questions with his jersey sitting atop his head. His eyes were full, but there were no tears. His typically exuberant, child-like demeanor had been replaced by a mixture of shock, sadness and an inability to comprehend what just happened.
He took slow pauses between words and tried his hardest to not let the tears fall.
Asked what coach Bill Self told the team afterward, he replied: ''Just that he was proud of us.''
That brings the spotlight to Self, whose record at Kansas is nearly peerless.
He has won more conference championships than he has lost games at Allen Fieldhouse. He has a national title to his credit and another runner-up. He has sent numerous players to the pros, from the Morris twins to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. And he has guided the Jayhawks to more No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament than just about any coach in the country.
But the blight on that record is what he's done with those seeds.
The loss to the Ducks left Self just 2-5 in Elite Eight games, the last four losses coming as the top-seeded team. Throw in losses while at Tulsa and Illinois and he's 2-7 in regional finals.
''They all stick with me and they'll stick with the players that have been a part of it,'' Self said. ''I'm disappointed more for them than I am for me. These guys put us in a situation to play for the highest stakes, and we came up short. Sure, it's going to stick with us.''
Probably a little bit longer than usual.
But at some point, Mason and Lucas will move on. Jackson will decide whether to turn pro, and Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk and maybe even Lagerald Vick will consider their options.
Another talented recruiting class will arrive in Lawrence, led by five-star power forward Billy Preston and four-star guard Marcus Garrett, and begin the pursuit of a championship once more.
Because expectations never change at Kansas, where the street leading to Allen Fieldhouse is named after the game's inventor, and championship banners drape over just about every rafter.
Neither does the heartbreak when a season ends short of the Final Four.
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