'Hawks Prepare for Iowa State

A horde of media showed up at Allen Fieldhouse at noon on Monday to get the latest scoop on Kansas basketball and the Jayhawks upcoming matchup with Iowa State this Wednesday. After interviews with players for 20 minutes, coach Bill Self appeared just outside the KU locker room.

Bill Self seemed surprised at the big media turnout.

“(Gosh) dang, you guys must have thought there was a free meal today,” Self joked with reporters.

With Kansas football winning the Orange Bowl over two weeks ago, KU hoops has now become the hot topic around town. That’s what happens when you’re 18-0, off to the fourth best start in school history, one of just two unbeaten teams left in college basketball, and now ranked No. 2 in the nation after North Carolina’s loss to Maryland on Saturday.

“That’s where we should be,” Self said when informed KU climbed from No. 3 to No. 2 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ polls. “I think Memphis (No. 1) started out ahead of us, and they haven’t done anything to warrant anyone believing they haven’t done what they’re supposed to do. We’ve played fairly consistently. I really don’t know if two or one or whatever means anything right now, but I think it will be certainly be motivation for our guys because we haven’t gotten to where we want to go, and if you are No. 1, you try to hang on to it as long as you can. I don’t really read much into it, but we’re probably where we deserve to be.”

After beating a tough Missouri team, 76-70, Saturday night in Columbia, KU is now ready for its next game against the red-hot Iowa State Cyclones (12-6, 2-1) at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The Cyclones are winners of their last nine of 11 games and riding a two-game winning streak, including a 72-67 victory over Missouri on Jan. 16.
ISU then beat Oklahoma State, 73-66, last Saturday despite trailing the Cowboys by 10 points in the first half. Six-foot-seven sophomore guard Wesley Johnson scored a career-high 24 points and was named Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week.
"That's a really good win for us," ISU head coach Greg McDermott said. "We have not been in a situation where we trailed by double digits and found a way to come back. I thought we defended well early and were efficient. We talked about really having to dig in defensively and we did that.”
Johnson leads four ISU players in double figures at 13.9 points per game, followed by 6-10 freshman forward Craig Brackins (12.5 ppg), 6-11 senior center Jiri Hubalek (12.2 ppg), and 6-6 senior forward Rahshon Clark (10.5 ppg), who became just the 26th player in Cyclone history to eclipse 1,000 career points against Oklahoma State. Six-foot-one junior point guard Bryan Peterson averages 5.6 points and is fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.10).
Self said his team has a tough challenge against the much improved Cyclones, who went just 15-16 (6-10 in Big 12) last season.

“They’re a lot better,” Self said. “They’re big. Your four man last year in now your starting two guard, you’ve obviously gotten bigger. Wesley Johnson is obviously on a roll. Peterson is handling the pressure very good and Brackins is one of the premier freshmen around. They have a nice team. Greg has done a great job. If anything concerns us, if we let them play to their size, we can have a lot of problems because they’re a lot longer than we are.”

Kansas, no doubt, should cause ISU with many problems. The Jayhawks are playing at a very high level now, and some national media are proclaiming KU the best team in the country.

“I think the the biggest thing with these guys is they love to play,” Self said. “They’re having fun playing. It’s so much easier to get jacked up and motivated when you’re enjoying yourself. We just haven’t had any major letdowns from an energy standpoint, even though our energy wasn’t the best it’s been all year at Mizzou. But it’s been pretty consistent for the most part all year long.”

“I think these guys are really motivated by the prospect of being the best when it counts the most,” Self added. “In order to do that, you got to get a little bit better and that’s what we talk about, so hopefully that’s what they’re buying.”

KU’s next chance to get better and stay unbeaten is Wednesday. The Jayhawks are one of three undefeated teams in conference play, along with Baylor and Kansas State.

“We definitely want to hold serve,” Self said.

Self wrapped up KU’s last win over Missouri.

“I think it means something anytime you beat a rival, especially on the road,” Self said. “I think our guys can get confidence from it.”

Self added that he wasn’t “ecstatic” about how well KU played, and that the Jayhawks need to “perform better under stressful conditions.” However, he was pleased how well they handled the press and were “pretty good on the defensive boards.”

He lamented the missed free throws (28-45) and the poor transition defense in the first half. Self said guards Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson, and Mario Chalmers need to do a “better job individually defensively as far as staying on the floor and not going for shot fakes. That’s where I think we can get better because I just think we can get sounder. We force help way too much. As aggressive as our guards are, that will happen quite often, but you don’t want that to happen more than it should. Darrell Arthur got his first two fouls because our guards weren’t in proper defensive position. ...(MU’s guards were) the quickest and without question the best transition guards we played.”

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