Kansas basketball joined good company Saturday, albeit begrudgingly.
The Jayhawks became the fifth No. 1-ranked team to fall this season, dropping a 56-55 decision to No. 18 Villanova at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. In losing as the nation’s top-ranked team, KU joined Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville as squads to share that distinction.
Asked why it’s been so difficult for teams to hold onto that top-ranked spot this season, KU coach Bill Self said that aspect “didn’t have anything to do with this game.”
“The reason No. 1, supposedly — I don’t even know if there is a No. 1 — but the reason why No. 1 lost today is because they played a team that’s really good in their building and they made more plays than that team did down the stretch,” Self said. “But I don’t think it had anything to do with what anybody’s ranked.”
The outcome snapped a nine-game winning streak for KU (9-2), which was playing its first game since receiving the No. 1 spot in The AP Top 25 poll on Monday.
“We’re better than that,” Self said in a postgame radio interview. “Give them credit: They guard and they made it an ugly game, and we made it an ugly game. That was two pretty good defensive teams playing, and certainly for the most part we did OK, but just fizzled the last minute.”
Jermaine Samuels, who led Villanova with 15 points, put the Wildcats (9-2) in front for good with a 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining. That represented the 10th make in a staggering 41 attempts from beyond the arc for the home squad, which was outscored 38-20 in points in the paint and attempted just two free throws.
Devon Dotson, whose own 15 points paced the Jayhawks, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17 seconds left, finishing off a 4-for-10 day for KU at the free-throw line and a 4-for-7 performance there for the sophomore point guard. While Dotson forced a turnover on a subsequent inbounds passed, he missed a falling point-blank attempt at the buzzer, giving the victory to Villanova in the matchup between recent rivals.
KU, which entered the game as the nation's fifth-best scoring team (83.7 points per game), went 24-for-55 from the floor (43.6%) and 3-for-13 from 3-point range.
The Jayhawks certainly had chances to extend their winning streak down the stretch.
KU, which trailed by as many as eight points in the second half, locked the game at 51-all on a Dotson jumper with four minutes left. That kick-started a stretch that saw the Jayhawks record three straight defensive stops on blocked shots (Udoka Azubuike, Christian Braun and Tristan Enaruna), with layups on the other end by Ochai Agbaji and Braun giving the visitors a 55-51 advantage with 1:49 remaining.
But Dotson was pick-pocketed by Wildcat junior Collin Gillespie, whose subsequent layup made it a one-possession game, 55-53, with 1:07 left. KU’s David McCormack was off on a baseline jumper, and Samuels followed with the go-ahead magic for the Wildcats.
Self labeled the Jayhawks’ late-game execution “awful.”
“Forget about shooting it miserable. Forget about not throwing the ball inside when guys were open. Forget about going really 4 of 12 from the free-throw line, because two of them were front ends. Forget about all that,” Self said. “You’re up four with a minute left. Everything that could basically go wrong, with the exception of the steal that kind of Dot got, went wrong in the last minute and 10 (seconds).”
Azubuike finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Jayhawks, who also got 11 points from Agbaji. Braun, thrust into a 16-minute appearance after a first-half injury suffered by junior guard and defensive ace Marcus Garrett (right ankle), finished with six points.
Self didn’t have a diagnosis on Garrett’s injury, though he said that it isn’t believed to be as severe as the high-ankle sprain that sidelined the guard for nearly a month last season, an ailment that essentially derailed his sophomore campaign.
“He’s our toughest kid, and (his teammates) would agree with me on that. So if he says he can’t play it’s probably not good,” Self said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be something that hopefully drags out to conference play, but we don’t know yet.”
Gillespie (12 points) rounded out the double-figure scorers for Villanova, which avenged a 74-71 defeat in the team's last meeting on Dec. 15, 2018, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
KU returns to action at 2 p.m. Dec. 29 against Stanford at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif.
Despite Saturday’s outcome — and the likely slide in the polls coming next week — Self remains bullish on this year’s squad.
“Not discouraged at all,” Self said. “Hate we lost, but not discouraged.”
At least one Jayhawk echoed that sentiment.
“We take this as a learning experience,” McCormack said. “We’ll make an emphasis on rebounding, perimeter defense, communication — everything we can take away from the game we are. Just going to become better.”