“We will be excited to play Saturday. We can see the end and everyone's focus and energy will be channeled toward this game and no one will be looking ahead. I see great energy from both teams for this game," said Bill Self at his weekly press conference.
It’s a game that has fans salivating, and players and coaches all hyped up.
Above and beyond that, this contest could also go a long way in determining KU’s seeding for the upcoming NCAA tournament. If the Jayhawks win, they will clinch the number one seed in Oklahoma City at the Big 12 tournament, and likely get a leg up on a top seed in the big dance. This is the time for KU to capitalize while teams like Florida, and North Carolina have faltered. If the Jayhawks win their eighth straight game, how can you keep them out of a top spot? Especially since KU has been pretty convincing during its current streak. Yes, they’ve played weaker competition but defeats have come in dominant fashion. Three opponents have failed to reach 60 points and the average margin of victory is 25 points. A win against a hot Texas team, would certainly qualify as another quality win. Seeding is in the back of everyone’s mind at this time of year.
"If I said I wasn't thinking about it, I would be lying,” admitted Self. “I think every coach is anxious to find out. I don't think there is much difference between a one and a two seed, except for maybe program exposure. I don't know what we are. I think there is a great chance we can help ourselves by playing well Saturday and next week and conversely, we can really hurt ourselves quite a bit by not finishing strong."
KU appears hitting its stride at just the right time, setting up for a strong stretch run.
“We just seem to play better in conference than we do in the preseason and that's because of what we emphasize,” stated Self. “Our goal from day one is to win the league and that's the focus. That is the second season and once Saturday is over, we'll change our focus and start talking about the postseason. There are a lot of reasons why teams play better or worse late in the year. "
Perhaps the only thing not clicking the last few games has been sophomore Brandon Rush. He is averaging over 12 points during KU’s current win streak but something seems to be missing. Coaches and fans are still waiting for Brandon to reach that next gear that everyone believes he has. Self is certainly not ready to say his leading scorer is in a slump.
"I don't know if I'd call it a slump, but he hasn't performed as well in the last three games. We've talked and I don't think it's any one thing that is hanging over his head. For us to be a great team, we need him to perform because he is one of our best players,” Self said. “I think he may be putting a little too much pressure on himself and when he does that, he gets tentative. I don't think it's a slump, but I do think it's something of a funk for the last week or so. "
Texas is a fine basketball team and it will take a terrific effort from most of Self’s roster to stop Kevin Durant and Co. Certainly, the Phog Allen Fieldhouse crowd will be ready to welcome the Longhorns with open arms.
“It's our last game, we're playing for an outright Big 12 championship, there's a lot at stake outside of that and we're playing an opponent (and one guy in particular) who our fans would like to see play. I won't guarantee this, but I don't think Durant will make a second trip back to Allen Fieldhouse. It should be a lot of fun,” Self concluded.
If you’re looking for some numbers to hang your hat on – KU is a perfect 5-0 against Texas at the Fieldhouse, with a win KU would earn its 27th victory, the most victories since the Jayhawks reached the 2003 Final Four with a 30-8 record. Don’t forget if the Jayhawks are victorious it will be the 1,900th win in the school’s storied history. If KU wins, that 50th conference title will rank as the most of any other team in the country – Kentucky is second on the list with 49 conference titles.