KU Preps For Sunflower Showdown

The temperatures were warmer outside and on the inside Phog Allen Fieldhouse had that big game feel on Friday.

ESPN's College Gameday was in house preparing for a 10am local broadcast on Saturday and Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis, and Digger Phelps even gave up their chairs for a bit to give Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson a chance to jump start their television careers on the set.

Yes, Robinson was back at practice, a bit gassed at times, but also playing inspired ball in spurts. For Robinson and his KU teammates it was step one in the quest to return to normalcy.

"Last night was a good start because I got after them pretty good last night," said Self prior to practice on Friday. "I think they said, ‘OK, things are back to normal.' We need to have a routine that we follow. I think we are all creatures of habit, especially athletes and athletic teams, and we haven't had any routine."

"I was really tired (when I got to Washington, D.C.)," admitted Tyshawn Taylor. "I didn't sleep too much. We got into the hotel really late. When we got there, I couldn't really sleep that much. We had to wake up early and then we were on a plane the whole time. We got back and practiced. It was a really long day. I was tired. It's been rough. There's been a lot going on."
"It's been a long week but it's something we wanted to do (attend the funeral) and something we decided to do as a team," said senior guard Brady Morningstar. "You're going to be tired when you wake up in the morning, it's just another day. We came back last night and had a good practice. We got our legs back. It was a good trip out there and I'm glad we did (go)."
No one has carried more of an emotional burden this week than Robinson who is still coping with the unexpected death of his mother Lisa. But Robinson was on the floor receiving encouraging words from his teammates and often checked on by Marcus and Markieff Morris.

KU Director of Basketball Operations Barry Hinson spent the week in Washington, D.C. with Robinson and said Robinson "left Lawrence on Sunday a boy and returned a man". It is tough to explain all that Robison has had to deal with but it was such a pleasant sight to see his smile on Friday prior to practice.

After asking his head coach how he could thank everyone for the outpouring of support, Robinson opted to write a letter that was released later in the day by KU athletics. His next question revolved around how to beat the Wildcats.

Truly getting back to normal means getting back to their winning ways, especially at home, and this time it's against a vaunted in-state rival. The game may lack the luster it had early in the season but make no mistake about it Kansas State will find a way to compete in this year's Sunflower Showdown. Kansas has won five in a row against Martin's squad and `10 of the last 11 and the Wildcats will be determined to earn a feather-in-the-cap win they so desperately need.

K-State's slide has been surprising this season, but remember…

"It's K-State, they're one of our nemesis. We want to play against them and it's always a pretty competitive game," Morningstar told reporters.
The Big 12's preseason pick to win the conference has had issues in nearly every area. The leadership, the chemistry, the decision-making on the court are all things Frank Martin can point to as reasons for a 14-7 record and a disappointing 2-4 mark. The struggles are reminiscent in some ways of the slide the Texas Longhorns endured last season.
The Wildcats miss the leadership of Denis Clemente and just appear disjointed on the court. Clemente's backcourt partner Jacob Pullen leads the team with 17.9 points per game and still impacts a game on many levels with assists (63) and steals (29).

"He's a lot like (former KU guard) Sherron (Collins)," Self said comparing his senior guard of a season ago. "I don't know if Jacob will go down as the winningest player ever at Kansas State, but you shouldn't evaluate Jacob on his statistics. He should evaluate him just like you did with Sherron, on wins. He's willed that program in many, many ways. He's one of my favorite players in the league."

"He's crafty," said Taylor. "He's not the fastest guard, but he's real crafty. He just knows how to play. He's a senior, he's a smart player, and he's a veteran so he knows how to play. He knows how to get to the line. He knows how to get easy buckets to get himself going. I respect his game a lot. I think he's a really good player."

The Cats are still formidable on the glass outrebounding teams by almost nine a game plus they get to the line as well as any team in the league averaging over 15 free throws a game - both focal points for KU heading into Saturday's contest.

"They do a lot of things well, but the thing they probably do as well as anything is the percentage of rebounds that they get back (on their own missed shots), which I am sure they are leading the country in that," Self pointed out. "I think its well over 40 percent, so we need to keep that around 25 percent if at all possible. Hopefully our first shot defense will be good."

For Kansas a handful of critical recruits will be on hand for the game and Wayne Simien's jersey will be retired at halftime. Simien and Miles were together again at KU's practice on Friday. Simien looks ready to take the court at any moment and score another 2,000+ points.

"(He's) An amazing player. I grew up watching him as a Kansas kid," said Burlington native Tyrel Reed. "He has accomplished great things here. Whenever he caught (the ball) on the block it was an automatic two points. He's an even greater person. I think that shows around the community (in) the things that he does for kids and everyone. He is just a great guy and no one is more deserving."

"Wayne is probably the best collegiate player I've ever coached, so he definitely deserves to be honored tomorrow (Saturday)," Self said. "How about having your name hung in the rafters and growing up 20 minutes down the road? This will be a truly special day for Wayne and very well deserved."

It will be a special day for all involved with a welcomed return to normalcy and a hard-fought game against a respected in-state rival.

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