Rivalry game? Check.
Nationally-prominent first-year coach on the opposing bench? Check.
Big Monday? Check.
Protecting KU’s winning streak in the Bram? Check.
Coach Bill Self said this game will be a good opportunity to see if his team has come as far as everyone thinks.
“We’ll find out how tough we are Monday,” he said. “I think we’re pretty tough but certainly the first game here wasn’t a true indication of how competitive this rivalry is going to become. We anticipate them playing well Monday. We have to play very well to win. If we don’t play well, we won’t win.”
K-State also has the attention of the Jayhawk players, who seem especially aware of the new energy that Bob Huggins has injected into a moribund Bramlage Coliseum.
The word’s even out among the freshmen. “I heard it’s pretty loud, something like Missouri,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to go in there and get a win.”
And The Streak? Will Self bring it up as a motivator?
“I won’t have to bring it up because [the media] will,” he said.
Mario Chalmers said The Streak is on the players’ minds, but “we want to keep [The Streak] up, but right now we’re not worried about the streak. We just want to go up there and get a victory. We can’t worry about what happened in the past; we got to worry about what’s going on now.”
All these factors are coming together to create more buzz than this game has seen in several years. Self gives all the credit for the renewed interest to KSU’s new coach.
“It’s great for our league because there’s been so much interest generated by [Huggins’] hire. It’s been a terrific fit from the outside looking in. I’m sure Bob is the biggest reason there’s so much interest there because his track record is as good as anybody,” he said.
Self was asked how he expects Monday’s atmosphere to measure up to others across the Big XII. The coach said that there have been several venues that were particularly ready for the Jayhawks, but concluded, “I don’t know that we would’ve played in a better atmosphere [than Manhattan] since I’ve been here.”
In his first year in charge of the Wildcats, Huggins began to restore purple pride at KSU’s late night event when he predicted an end to The Streak this season. Since then, Kansas State fan interest in the Flint Hills has been sky high, and the Wildcats are on the verge of a 20-win season (19-8) and a nine-win conference season, something they’ve never done in the Big XII.
Huggins also has Kansas State on the NCAA tournament bubble. No doubt a victory over the nationally-ranked Jayhawks would help the Wildcats’ resume come Selection Sunday.
Nevertheless, the Jayhawk players continued to say the right things as they play their way through the Big XII schedule and work to keep pace with conference co-leader Texas A&M. The message is, stay focused. The biggest game of the season is always the next one on the schedule.
Chalmers said, “We’ve seen a couple of loud crowds so far this year, but you can’t worry about the crowd. You just got to stay focused on the game. As long as we play our game, we’re going to be fine.”
“We just got to stay focused and keep our blinders on and just stay focused,” Rush said.
As for Huggins’ prediction that The Streak ends February 20th, they Jayhawks are ready for the challenge.
“I got no comment about that,” Rush said, smiling.
“He can predict anything he wants to, but when the final buzzer rings, we’ll see who’s winning,” Chalmers responded.