Kansas upset loss still haunts coach

Thursday, March 24, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:14 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Kansas coach Bill Self said Wednesday he called Bucknell coach Pat Flannery to apologize for his players not shaking hands after the Jayhawks’ unexpected loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Only a handful of Kansas players stayed around for the traditional handshake last week when the 14th-seeded Bisons shocked the No. 3 seed Jayhawks 64-63. The Jayhawks first opening-round loss since 1978 brought a bitter end to the careers of four seniors and some upset fans called it the worst defeat in school history.

“I did not know this had happened until the next morning,” Self said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “I called Pat Flannery myself and explained it to him.”

Self said one problem was that Bucknell’s players did not all line up for the handshake after Wayne Simien’s desperation jumper at the buzzer came up short. Instead, many of them ran onto the floor in celebration.

“Regardless of the circumstances, at sporting events win or lose, you should congratulate the other team after the game,” Self said. “I don’t think anybody would intentionally stiff anybody in that way shape or form. I’m not happy about that regardless of the circumstances.”

Self said Flannery told him there was no reason to apologize.

“Pat said, ‘Don’t sweat it,’” Self said.

Five days after losing to a team that had only five scholarship players and had never won an NCAA game, Self said it still hurts.

“Nobody likes going through this. Fans don’t like losing in the first round to Bucknell. Players certainly hurt, families of coaches and players, we all hurt,” Self said. “But you have to get a pretty tough hide about yourself. In coaching, you understand these things can happen. You don’t anticipate them happening to you, but you see it happening all the time.”

Seeing an otherwise successful season come to such an abrupt end will be painful for a while, Self said. The memory of the loss still fills “every waking moment.”

“You can spend time at dinner or work and talk about recruiting or whatever and still your thoughts are that particular game and getting eliminated,” said Kansas’ second-year coach. “It’s not going to wear off for a while.”

One factor in the Jayhawks’ performance may have been the ankle injury and stomach virus that sidelined senior swingman Keith Langford for almost two weeks heading into the game.

“We weren’t at full strength. But we were a three seed and Bucknell was a 14 and we just didn’t get it done,” Self said. “I think I learned a lot through the experience. It’s not as much what happens to you as how you react to what happens.”

The pain is so acute, Self said, he wasn’t even able to watch other NCAA tournament games.

“I flipped channels a little bit on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “I just looked to see scores. I really doubt I’ll watch much of the tournament the rest of the way. It’s not because I feel we should be in the mix. I’m not saying that at all. But every time you’re watching somebody else play, you’re thinking about how you wish that was you, and how it could be.”

GRAY WILL STAY: Taj Gray, Oklahoma’s leading scorer this year, announced Wednesday that he will return to the Sooners for his senior season next year.

Gray, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged team highs with 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds as Oklahoma (25-8) won a share of the Big 12 Conference regular-season title. He had been considered a possible NBA draft pick, though it was unclear how early he might go.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and there’s a lot more I need to work on before I make that next step,” Gray said. “Returning for my senior year will give me the opportunity to improve my skills.

“Another factor in my decision is that I want to graduate next year. That’s something that’s very important to me and to my family.”

Gray, who transferred to the Sooners from Redlands (Okla.) Community College, made an immediate impact and was named the Big 12’s newcomer of the year. He scored a season-high 29 points in the season opener against Cal State-Northridge and continued to show he was the team’s best player as he led the Sooners back to the NCAA tournament after missing it last year.

After beating 14th-seeded Niagara in the tournament’s opening round, third-seeded Oklahoma was knocked out by Andrew Bogut and Utah, the No. 6 seed, on Saturday.

“We had a nice season and won a share of the Big 12 title,” Gray said. “With all the talent we have coming back and the new guys who are coming in, we have the chance to have a very special season next year.”

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