Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer 648d

With or without Jackson, No. 1 Kansas shows its vulnerability in loss to TCU

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- His team had just pulled off an upset unmatched in the history of its program, so excuse TCU coach Jamie Dixon for swatting away like a low-hanging shot in the paint the mere suggestion that the absence of Kansas freshman Josh Jackson contributed to the Horned Frogs' 85-82 win Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

"None," Dixon said. "Everybody has guys who play and don't play and get in foul trouble."

Jackson, the dynamic, 6-foot-8 guard and second-leading scorer for the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks, served a one-game suspension for his role in a February traffic incident. He was supposed to return Friday for the Big 12 tournament semifinals, a round of play for which the Jayhawks last failed to qualify in 2009.

A team ranked No. 1, in fact, had not lost any conference tournament games since 2012.

And there went the Jayhawks on Thursday night, headed out of the Sprint Center for the quick ride back to Lawrence, still positioned to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but hobbled a bit and exposed by TCU.

Dixon, by the way, was largely right. Kansas didn't lose because of Jackson's suspension.

The Jayhawks lost because they were outscored by 10 points in the paint, 10 points on second-chance opportunities and by seven points off turnovers.

Kansas lost because its bench fell flat when Lagerald Vick -- Jackson's replacement in the lineup -- got in foul trouble. TCU took off on a 16-3 run to end the first half, then used another surge after halftime that pushed its lead to 11 points.

"That's where they won the game," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Kansas lost because, after finding answers in close games all season, it failed to hold a four-point lead with the ball and less than two minutes to play. Before Thursday, the Jayhawks were 9-2 this season in games decided by five points or fewer, and 5-0 since Feb. 6.

So what gives? Even indirectly, Jackson's absence couldn't have made such a huge impact.

"We've got to come out and play from the jump," Kansas guard Devonte' Graham said. "We've got to start taking teams' hearts and just trying to put our foot on their throat and not give them momentum, especially when we feel like we're the better team. And everybody's got to get aggressive."

According to Self, Graham "hit it on the head."

"We've got to do things to make people play poorly," Self said. "TCU shot a lot of layups today.

"We've got to tighten up some stuff, and a lot of that falls on me, getting our guys more prepared. I don't think it's the end of the earth, by any stretch, but it is very disappointing."

Self said he doesn't believe anything is "broken" with Kansas. He said he hoped that this unexpected loss on the cusp of the most important time of the season would serve as a good motivator.

The reality is that the Jayhawks should be plenty motivated for the NCAA tournament, regardless of their experience in Kansas City.

Their hope is that Thursday boils down to a bad 40 minutes against a group that spectacularly handled its 18-hour rest after defeating Oklahoma on Wednesday.

TCU is now the first team since the 2002-03 UCLA squad to endure a seven-game losing streak and beat the No. 1 team in the same season. The Horned Frogs had not defeated a ranked opponent in conference-tournament play since 1983.

They were 0-6 before Thursday all time against top-ranked foes and 0-22 against teams ranked fourth or higher.

When Desmond Bane hit three free throws with 2.5 seconds left and Graham's 3-pointer bounced away, this TCU effort represented a remarkable achievement that, more than any other factor, accounted for Kansas' early departure.

Because if the absence alone of Jackson -- one cog in a Kansas team that needs several to reach its national-title aspirations -- explains the loss, the Jayhawks face bigger problems than a bus ride home in the dark on Thursday.

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