Players ready for challenge of Illinois

TULSA, Okla. - Though head coach Bill Self's history with Illinois may be getting a great deal of run with fans and in the media at the moment, the Kansas team is focused on taking care of business - a task that begins with slowing Illini senior point guard Demetri McCamey.

Right now, it seems like everyone at the BOK Center is living in the past.

Fans at both the Kansas-Boston and Illinois-UNLV games last night could be heard discussing the "What if?" potential of a Jayhawks-Illini match-up in Sunday's third round. When both teams emerged victorious, gasoline was dumped on the fire.

The fact that Bill Self coached Illinois for a three-year stretch eight years ago is suddenly once again big news - a plot-thickening detail for fans and media alike to cling to as the hours count down to the game itself.

Ask Self or his players about the connection, however, and one receives an answer comparable to a collective shrug of the shoulders.

"We know Coach Self coached there years back," said sophomore power forward Thomas Robinson. "But to be honest, Coach Self never even talks about it that much."

"The only time he said something was yesterday when we found out we would be playing against them," added sophomore wing Travis Releford. "But up until this point he hasn't said anything about them."

Understandably, the Kansas coaches and players are more interested in what Illinois brings to the table as a team which, as last night's 73-62 thumping of UNLV shows, is plenty.

Though the 24-hour turnaround makes a complete scouting report difficult to obtain and impossible to employ, the lynchpin of the Illini team is identified easily enough.

It's senior point guard Demetri McCamey.

"We've gotta stop McCamey," said senior shooting guard Tyrel Reed. "He's kind of the leader of the team and everything runs through him. Slow him down and just defend the other guys. He's just such a good passer and gets everyone involved."

Despite an up-and-down season in what was expected to be a breakout year for the 6-foot-3 floor general from Bellwood, Ill., his full talents were on display versus the Runnin' Rebels. He scored to the tune of 17 points, he dished out seven assists and he played outstanding defense.

McCamey's size, strength and speed make him a difficult match-up for virtually any team, but if there's one equipped to reign him in it may be the Jayhawks. Much as they did against Boston University star John Holland, Self indicated they would likely throw different defenders at him - though at the end of the day the assignment could end up in the hands of senior Brady Morningstar.

McCamey is hardly the only talent on the Illinois roster, however, and the Kansas players know it.

"Right now, we know that they like to get out in transition," said freshman guard Josh Selby. "They run a lot of five man motion because they've got a lot of shooters."

Of the seven players on Head Coach Bruce Weber's bench who average more than 20 minutes a game, five of them shoot better than 36-percent from beyond the arc. McCamey shoots an eye-popping 45.9-percent, while Mike Tisdale (42.6-percent) and D.J. Richardson (38.5-percent) aren't far behind.

Though the Illini don't exactly play a hair-on-fire brand of basketball, ranking 205th in the country in possessions per game, they are still significantly faster than Boston University, who sits at 324th nationally.

By comparison, Kansas typically plays much faster than either opponent, but the Illini team they saw versus UNLV is one against whom they'll have the opportunity to stretch their legs.

"When teams slow it up and muddy up the game, we've got to just embrace that and enjoy the process," Reed said. "But now we've got a team that likes to get out in transition, that plays a lot like the teams that we played in the Big 12."

"It's going to be a big game tomorrow," Robinson added. "It's going to be a big boy game, and we're ready for it."

Tipoff is scheduled Sunday for 7:40 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Top Stories