A somewhat gentler Bob Knight leads his Raiders

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Bob Knight might have done his best coaching job after one of his worst losses in his four seasons at Texas Tech.

One would think Knight would still be steaming after Iowa blew out the Red Raiders by 30 points in Chicago Dec. 21 on ESPN.

The easy thing would have been for Knight to be the Grinch and steal Christmas from the players, making them stick around Lubbock and run lines for a few days. But instead, he simply waited for them to return from a four-day Christmas break.

"I think people probably thought that he would have been all over the team and bury them," Knight's son Pat, an assistant coach, said Wednesday as he scouted Washington for a possible Elite Eight matchup if Texas Tech beats West Virginia in a Sweet 16 game Thursday at the Pit.

Knight elected to go back to the basics, conjuring up ways to work on the fundamentals and keeping a positive attitude. He stayed in Lubbock during the four days, watching tape and going over offense and defense, trying to find where to improve.

What were the players probably thinking while home?

"If you're playing for Bob Knight, I don't think you really want to come back," Pat Knight said. "I think they were really surprised when they did come back that we weren't waiting there with clubs and bats ready to take it to them.

"Honestly, he didn't raise his voice at all," Pat Knight said. "Even I was surprised and they [the players] were like 'Wow.' He knew we were dealing with different kids and didn't have a go-to guy. He knew he had to be careful with these guys. In the past with the teams we've had, he would have gotten after them more."

The Red Raiders had their dips, like losing by 29 at Oklahoma State and 17 at Iowa State. But the Red Raiders also won at Oklahoma, beat Kansas in double overtime and got to the Big 12 title game by beating Iowa State and Oklahoma in Kansas City.

How did he do it with a team that lacks a star, but has tremendous balance? By maximizing the efforts of senior Ronald Ross (17.6 ppg), sophomore Jarrius Jackson (15.5), senior Devonne Giles (11.3) and freshman Martin Zeno (12.8), who are all scoring double figures.

"He's gotten into our head that everybody has to contribute, even if you don't play a lot of minutes," Jackson said. "I wouldn't call him more mellow. He's still competitive and aggressive toward you. That's Coach. That's the way he coaches."

A year ago, Knight could lean heavily on all-American guard Andre Emmett and didn't have to motivate every player. He altered his approach this season, making sure that everyone felt involved in every play and possession.

And that's why this run in the Sweet 16 has been one of the most satisfying to the Knight family. No one thought the Red Raiders would get there. No one. This isn't his most talented team, but it might be one of his most coachable.

"I was going through some things this morning that we had put up in our locker room way back in October and no one had picked this team of ours to finish any higher than seventh in the Big 12," Bob Knight said during Wednesday's news conference at the Pit. "And not one single person had picked them to go into the NCAA Tournament and that may show a lot of things about people that pick finishes."

Knight said he thought this season's team could be better than last year's. But no one would dare say they said in the preseason that this was a Sweet 16 team. The staff had to get on Ross quite a bit in December to implore him to be more of a leader. Only after the Red Raiders won at Kansas State on Jan. 12, after arriving on the day of the game because of travel issues, did the staff know it had a mentally tough group.

"None of us would tell you that when the year started that we would be here," Pat Knight said. "That's why this is even more enjoyable. That's probably what they're probably saying at West Virginia. No one at ESPN was showing up in the preseason in Lubbock or at West Virginia and yet here are two fundamentally sound teams that bought into their coaches' systems. Now, either West Virginia or Texas Tech will be playing Saturday with a chance to go to the Final Four."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.