KU's Stewart Down

SAN ANTONIO — Kansas will be without senior guard Rod Stewart for Saturday's showdown with North Carolina in the Final Four.

Rodrick Stewart slipped on a wet spot attempting a dunk during Friday’s open practice and fractured his right knee cap. He will have surgery when he returns to Lawrence after the tournament.

Stewart was down on the floor for several minutes before being carried off the court on a golf cart. After seeing the doctor, he went back to the team hotel to rest. With their teammate hurting, it was a subdued KU locker room afterwards.

“It downed it (mood) a lot,” said sophomore forward Darrell Arthur. “I didn’t really see what happened or how he did it, but I know he fractured his knee. We’re just going to try to do what we have to do to make him comfortable and feel good, and just try to help him as quick as possible.

“Oh man, it’s going to be tough for him. He’s a senior, too. We’re just going to try to surround him with our love. It’s going to give us a lot of motivation. We’re going to try to do it for him and his family, and do it for the team and just play hard.”

This has been a tough NCAA tournament for Stewart. He suffered a case of tonsillitis in Omaha in the first two rounds, and did not even attend the UNLV game in the second round. Stewart scored two points in eight minutes against Portland State in the opening round, and then played a minute against Villanova in the Sweet 16.

He said in the locker room after KU beat Davidson in the Elite Eight that he was close to feeling 100 percent.

After transferring from USC after his freshman year, Stewart’s college career has come to an end. He had his best year as a Jayhawk this season, averaging 2.8 points in 11.6 minutes per game, while shooting a career-high 49.3 percent from the field. He also tied a career high with 2.2 rebounds per game.

Stewart started nine games this season.

KU coach Bill Self was shook hard by the injury and was planning on visiting with Stewart again back at the hotel.

“I’m disappointed, certainly hurt for him,” Self said. “Guys practice their whole life to get to the Final Four. That’s been taken away from him. ... The doctor said he caught a break in that it could have been worse with the type of injury he just had, but the x-ray shows that he’ll heal up fine. It’s going to be a process for him.”

The KU players had Stewart in their thoughts.

“We’re keeping him Rod in our prayers,” said senior Russell Robinson.

“Rod worked so hard to get to this point,” added sophomore Sherron Collins. “He’s been through a lot of stuff his whole career, especially this year. It sucks for him to go out like this, not even to be able to participate in the Final Four. It’s just another lump we got to get over. But now it’s for Rod. (We) just got to come out (and) use it like an energy boost.”

Indeed, they will.

“He knows we got his back,” said junior Mario Chalmers.

Senior Jeremy Case will continue to be the fifth guard in KU’s rotation on Saturday.

“I’m just going to try to prepare for the game the way I always have,” Case said. “My role is still the same. I’m not going to change anything. Coach said whenever he needs me, he’s going to put me in, so I’ll be ready.”

So will his teammates.

“It is disappointing to have this happen,” said junior Brandon Rush. “It is bringing us down right now, but we will have to rise above it and go out tomorrow and play our game.”

And they’ll play for their injured teammate, whom Self said should be in the Alamodome on Saturday cheering for the Jayhawks. At Media Day back in October, Stewart talked about what it would mean to win the national championship.

“It would definitely mean a lot to me and to all of the seniors,” Stewart said. “That is something that you are going to take with you the rest of your life. Win or lose, we are going to enjoy all of the experiences we have. But to win a national championship and be in that group that took home the whole thing would be really special."

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