Conference Title on the Line Saturday for KU

It's come down to the final regular-season game for Kansas. After 30 games and 15 Big 12 contests, KU can win at least a share of its fourth straight Big 12 championship with a victory over Texas A&M in College Station at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

KU has won four consecutive conference titles just five times in school history, the last being 1995-98. While the national championship is the Jayhawks’ ultimate prize, winning the Big 12 title is also a huge goal for this team.

“Coaches across America understand how hard it is to win league championships,” Bill Self said at his Thursday press conference. “That’s a great achievement (to win four straight Big 12 titles). To win four in a row in a high major league, where other guys are recruiting comparable-type players is a great accomplishment. Obviously, we haven’t done that. We got to win Saturday. But that would be a big feather in this program’s cap, and primarily those seniors’ caps to have a chance to do that.”

KU (27-3, 12-3) is currently tied with Texas atop the Big 12 race. The Longhorns host Oklahoma State in their regular-season finale on Sunday. The Jayhawks, though, are just focused on A&M and controlling their own destiny.

“I think our locker room will be pretty juiced going out (to play),” Self said. “This should be the most competitive we feel all year long going into this game. Our guys will be fired up to play, just like A&M’s will be also.”

KU is facing former Jayhawk guard Mark Turgeon’s Aggies (22-8, 8-7), who have won two of their last three games after dropping three straight. The Aggies are coming off a big 71-57 victory at Baylor on Wednesday, just a game after being blitzed at Oklahoma, 64-37.

Texas A&M has a balanced offensive attack, led by junior guard/forward Josh Carter, who averages 12.6 points per game. He also leads the team with 63 three-pointers. Senior forward Joseph Jones is next in scoring at 10.7 points per game, while also ranking second on the team in rebounds (5.2 rpg). Sophomore guard Donald Sloan averages 9.4 points, followed by freshman center DeAndre Jordan (9.0 ppg and team-best 6.4 rpg and 37 blocks), sophomore forward Bryan Davis (8.6 ppg and team-high 31 steals), senior guard Dominique Kirk (7.9 ppg and team-best 102 assists), and sophomore guard Derrick Roland (6.1 ppg).

The Aggies are holding opponents to 61.6 points per game (No. 3 in Big 12) and 38.8 field-goal shooting, which is second in the league behind Kansas. They're looking to end the regular season with a bang on Senior Day.

“Two of their last three games (victory over Baylor and 98-54 blowout win against Texas Tech) have been great performances,” Self said. “I thought last night (beating Baylor) was a great emotional win for their program, one they probably felt they needed to get. I’m sure Saturday will be an emotional-filled day also. Hopefully, we’ll play good. We expect them to play good. It should be a great Big 12 game.’”

Texas A&M has been a streaky shooting team. Self just hopes they don’t catch fire on Saturday. He said the Aggies pose many concerns.

“They defend, they’re very, very athletic,” Self said. “DeAndre Jordan is an athlete that few people in America have. He’s a fabulous talent and fast. ... Josh Carter was the best three-point shooter in the country last year, this year he’s not shooting quite as good. But we know he can shoot. They’ve got the guys. When you make shots, everything looks a lot better. It's the same for us."

KU has received a big boost recently from the play of sophomore guard Sherron Collins. He scored 13 points against Texas Tech on Senior Night, and exploded for 18 the previous game against K-State. His bruised knee is getting better daily.

“He’s not a little better, he’s a lot better than he was a week ago,” Self said. “This is the first time he’s felt good all year. He had the stress fracture, the screw put in his foot, and he didn’t respond to treatment well after that. And he turns his ankle and chipped a bone in his foot. Then he gets a bruised knee. He’s never been able to practice and get to where he’s at now. Right now, he’s actually practicing full time. He hasn’t practiced full time in months. I think he’s close to being what we all thought he would be going into the season. He couldn’t have picked a better time to do it. He’s close to being 100 percent (regarding) health, timing, explosiveness, and conditioning. I still think he can improve in some of those areas.”

This game marks the first time Turgeon has ever coached against his alma mater. The former KU point guard (1983-87) is in his first year at Texas A&M after serving the last seven years as head coach at Wichita State. Turgeon is in his 10th season overall as a head college coach, and sports a 175-127 record.

“This (game) won’t be emotional for him like it would be normally,” Self said. “It will be emotional for him coming back here next year playing (in Allen Fieldhouse) and being recognized and having all the talk. You know what people down there are talking about? ‘We need to beat Kansas to accomplish what we want to accomplish.’ I think they're in the tournament without a doubt, but for seeding ... Coming back next year, depending on the timing of the game, (people will) be talking about his homecoming. He's not going to get hung up on playing his alma mater this particular game. It'll probably be tougher next year."

Texas A&M will certainly be a tough obstacle for Kansas, whose players know one more win is all they need to wrap up at least a share of the Big 12 crown. If the Jayhawks can beat the Aggies, and if Texas loses to Oklahoma State, KU will win the league title outright. So will Self be tempted to watch the Texas game on Sunday afternoon?

“I hope I don’t even have to watch the game,” Self said. “I’m sure I’ll watch part of it, but the biggest thing, if we know who we’re playing in the first round (of the Big 12 Tournament) or the two teams we could potentially play, I’ll worry about that. I don’t think you can burn energy or spend all your time worrying about things you have no control over. At 3 (p.m. tipoff) on Sunday, I hope I’m totally exhausted recovering from a great celebration Saturday night. That’s what I hope for.”

Four straight Big 12 championships would certainly be cause to celebrate. 

Phog.net Top Stories