Senior Night in the Fieldhouse

There will be plenty of roses, plenty of cheers, and plenty of tears tonight. It's Senior Night at Allen Fieldhouse as KU says goodbye to five seniors in their final home game against a surging Texas Tech team. The Jayhawks have won 23 straight Senior Nights and 24 consecutive final home games of the season. (There was no senior on the KU team last year.)

For Rodrick Stewart, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson and Jeremy Case, this will be the final time they run out of the tunnel in the Phog. This will be the final time they play before 16,300 cheering fans. This will be the final time they score a basket, dish an assist, grab a rebound, and dive on the floor in a game on James Naismith Court.

Emotions will surely be sky high this memorable evening, which will include the traditional senior speeches after the game.

KU coach Bill Self is extremely thankful for what this senior class means to him and Kansas basketball. Robinson, Kaun, and Jackson arrived at KU in 2004 in his first recruiting class; Case was a Roy Williams recruit who redshirted his sophomore season in 2004-05; and Stewart was a transfer from USC who became eligible his sophomore year in January of 2006.

“It’s an unheralded class,” Self said. “There were no McDonald's All-Americans. There’s just guys that came and basically gave their heart and soul to this place. They’re 107-23 (the past four seasons), which isn’t the winningest class ever at KU, but ranks right up there pretty high. A lot of guys get more attention, but this has been a fabulous class, just fabulous. I hope that everybody, all our fans, and of course, all our other players and coaches, we need to make sure they go out in style on Monday. It won’t be easy because we’re playing a team that obviously should be pretty confident (after Texas Tech beat No. 5 Texas, 83-80, on Saturday).”

This senior class has indeed made a great impact on Kansas basketball. It’s won three Big 12 regular-season titles (tied Oklahoma in 2005, tied Texas in 2006 and won 2007 outright), won the last two Phillips 66 Big 12 postseason tournaments, and was part of KU's 50th conference championship, the Jayhawks' 600th all-time victory in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, the fourth most wins in school history (33 victories last year), and part of the third-best start in KU annals (20-0 this season).

And perhaps even more important, Case has already graduated and the other seniors are scheduled to graduate this spring.

As emotional and as hard as KU played in its 88-74 victory over K-State Saturday night, Self expects the Jayhawks to pick it up a notch on Senior Night.

“I told our guys in the locker room (after the K-State game) that you’ll play harder on Monday than you did tonight, and they should,” Self said. “This is the last time they’ll run out of the tunnel. I hope our fans understand what a big deal it is, because if there is a letdown (after the KSU game), they can certainly pick you up. There may be a letdown, but if there is, it would really surprise me because there’s still so much at stake and plus, senior day for a special group like this that’s won so much...they got a chance to win four straight Big 12 crowns, there hasn’t been very many senior classes do that.”

KU (26-3, 11-3) and Texas are currently tied for first place in the Big 12 race with two regular-season games remaining. The Jayhawks face Texas A&M on Saturday after their clash with Texas Tech, while Texas hosts Nebraska on Tuesday before facing Oklahoma State in another home game on Sunday.

The Jayhawks head into Monday’s game facing a hot Texas Tech team, which has won three of its last four games. The Red Raiders (16-12, 7-7) rank third in the Big 12 in field goal percentage (46.4), second in three-point field-goal shooting (38.6), and third in free-throw percentage (71.2).

Texas Tech, which is now coached by Pat Knight after his legendary dad, Bob Knight, resigned on Feb. 4, is led in scoring and rebounding by senior guard Martin Zeno at 15.9 points per game and 4.5 rpg. Junior guard Alan Voskuil averages 13.5 points while leading the team with 62 three-pointers (53.9 percent). Freshman guard John Roberson (12.1 ppg); freshman forward Mike Singletary (7.3 ppg); senior guard Charlie Burgess (5.3 ppg); junior forward Damior Suljagic (5.2 ppg); and sophomore forward Trevor Cook (4.8 ppg and team-best 16 blocks) also contribute to the attack.

Expect KU and its seniors to have their game face on. After all, this is their last home game, their last hurrah.

“It’s going to be a big night for me, a real memorable night,” said senior guard Russell Robinson. “I’m just trying to focus and enjoy as much of it as I can, eat it up and hopefully go out with a bang.”

Junior Brandon Rush wants to make sure Robinson and all the seniors go out in great fashion.

“It’s going to be jumping,” Rush said. “Russell and Sasha and all of these seniors are going to have a great time. ... It’s going to feel good.”

And will Rush treat this game like it’s his own farewell night in the Phog?

“That’s a trick question,” he said with a smile. “No comment.”

It will certainly be Jackson’s last game in Allen Fieldhouse. Senior Night will be an emotional one for him with his mom and family in attendance.

“It’s real special,” Jackson said. “We’ve been here all four years. All the (past seniors) —  Wayne (Simien), Keith (Langford), Aaron (Miles), all those great guys, and Michael (Lee), now it’s our turn. I remember sitting on the bench listening to those guys talk. I think Wayne talked the longest. It’s going to be great.

Jackson is indeed ready for one of the biggest nights of his life.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more emotion Monday (than during the K-State game) because all the seniors know this is it for us,” he said. “This will be our last home game in the fieldhouse, we’ll never get (that) back.”

For Jackson and the seniors, Monday night will also be one more step to winning their fourth straight Big 12 championship.

“We got a chance to bring a title home,” Jackson said. “Coach always tells us it’s between our ears. We’re going to fight until the end.”

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