LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -The Kansas Jayhawks had just lost for the second time in three games, committing 21 turnovers in a disheartening setback to an Oklahoma State team that was struggling to stay above .500.
Perhaps some friendships were becoming a bit frayed. According to one player, things had been said during the long, demanding season that had caused feelings to be hurt.
So on a cold night in February, the Jayhawks got together at a Lawrence restaurant to let everybody speak their minds. Coaches were not invited.
No one wants to say who said what to whom, but since getting together that night at Henry T's Bar and Grill, Kansas has won nine straight games and played some of its best basketball of the year. A victory over 11 1/2-point underdog Villanova on Friday night will put the deep and well balanced Jayhawks just one win away from their first Final Four under coach Bill Self.
``Everybody just got their feelings out,'' sophomore guard Sherron Collins said. ``I know feelings was hurt. Somebody had told something to somebody, it was a little harsh. We knew it was no good for the team. Everybody was just trying to talk about it. Once we got over that stuff where everybody listened to each other and didn't take things the wrong way, that's what turned the team around.''
Nobody is saying the Jayhawks were in crisis that night. But two straight road losses to Texas and Oklahoma State had created a sense, said senior guard Russell Robinson, that it was time to let everybody have their say.
So while munching on hot wings and turkey club sandwiches, everyone did.
``The main thing was to get everybody on the same page, get everybody pulling the same direction,'' said Robinson, a senior guard and team leader. ``We were going through a tough time. We needed to come together. That meeting helped us come together as a team, helped everybody focus their energy toward winning. It wasn't too serious.''
The meeting lasted only about an hour.
``We were all upset about the way we were playing,'' freshman center Cole Aldrich said. ``We felt we hadn't been playing as good as we should have been, could have been. So we talked about changing some things. We said, `Hey, we need to have some more enthusiasm, do this, do that.' It definitely helped. I don't think some people even ate.''
Somewhat surprisingly, other diners left the players alone. The entire Kansas basketball team sitting together in a Lawrence restaurant is a sight that's certain to draw attention. But people must have sensed the Jayhawks were not simply enjoying a night on the town.
``There were some kids who came up,'' said Robinson. ``But for the most part, people respected us and just let us be.''
In their next game, the Jayhawks won 75-64 at Iowa State, always a tough place for them to play. Then they whipped Michael Beasley and Kansas State 88-74, avenging an earlier loss. And with the exception of a few isolated patches here and there, they've been near the top of their game ever since, including an 85-61 trampling of Portland State and a crisp 75-56 dispatching of UNLV in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Now it's onto the round of 16 and a late-night date on Friday with 12th-seeded Villanova.
The February meeting emphasized the point, Collins said, that ``we're here to love each other.''
``I think once people understood we were all here together, and they didn't take it the wrong way, they took it the right way, we were all right,'' Collins said. ``The meeting really just let everybody know we were just reaching out with love and nobody should hurt each other's feelings.''
When Self heard the players had met, he was relieved.
``The reason they met was there were things going on within our team that weren't giving us the best chance to win,'' he said. ``And they had to get those things out.''
The problems, whatever they were, had nothing to do with somebody trying to hog all the glory or shoot the ball too much. The Jayhawks, if anything, are sometimes too unselfish for their own good. They've been known to have trouble from one game to the next deciding who the go-to guy should be.
``It was more or less distraction-type things,'' Self said. ``It was good they met and I guess they were able to get things off their chest. You can't let things fester.
``Since then, coincidentally maybe, we've played very well. I'm sure (the meeting) had something to do with it.''

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