Owl Season Opens Saturday

Kansas can't wait to hit the hardwood after its stunning one-point loss to Massachusetts last week.

Temple, meanwhile, is looking forward to knocking off the defending national champions after its shocking 88-72 blowout victory over No. 8 Tennessee last Saturday.

KU (7-2) and Temple (5-3) meet Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in a 1:30 p.m. (CST) showdown on ESPN2. Kansas leads the overall series 5-3, although the Owls have won the last two games with its last victory (75-66 in OT) coming on Dec. 22, 1995 in the Jimmy V Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.

Bill Self’s Jayhawks need to beat Temple and Arizona (Dec. 23 in Tuscon) for a Merry Christmas. But to defeat the Owls, they’ll have to stop the best Christmas in the country.

Temple All-America candidate Dionte Christmas is coming off a season-high 35 points versus Tennessee, including an astonishing 30 points in the second half. The senior guard shot 7 of 14 from three-point range, hitting four straight threes in just over a minute midway through the second half.

"I got a lot of open looks because of the style they play," Christmas said. "I had to take advantage of that and was able to knock some shots down. When you're hot, you're hot. In the second half, the basket looked like the ocean to me. Every shot I took, I knew it was going in."

Christmas, who earned ESPN.com National Player of the Week honors, leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (21.0 ppg) and is on pace to become the first player to top the league in scoring in three consecutive seasons. He also averages 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, while shooting an impressive 40.3 percent beyond the arc. Christmas has made 29 of the Owl’s 58 three-pointers.

“He can do a lot of things,” said KU sophomore guard Brady Morningstar. “He can obviously shoot the ball well and he can take it to the rim also. If I get a chance to guard him, I’m going to go at him and not back down.”

Christmas has a talented supporting class as well. Junior guard Ryan Brooks averages 13. 5 points per game, followed by 7-foot senior center Sergio Olmos (12.8 ppg and team-best 2.8 blocks per game), sophomore forward Lavoy Allen (9.4 ppg and team-high 7.7 rebounds), and senior point guard Semaj Inge, who averages 9.3 points and a team-best 4.5 assists per game.

Freshman guard Ramone Moore (6.6 ppg) and junior guard Luis Guzman (3.0 ppg) add punch off the bench.

Olmos had a breakout game against Tennessee with a career-high 19 points and career-tying five blocks. Brooks shined as well with his first career-double-double (16 points and a career-high 10 boards).

Temple is averaging 71.2 points, 37.2 rebounds, and 7.3 three-pointers per game. The Owls, who are on a modest two-game winning streak, have losses to Clemson, Buffalo, and Miami (OH).

Self has great respect for Temple and third-year head coach Fran Dunphy, the former star coach at Pennsylvania.

“I think they’re good,” Self said. “Fran’s a great coach, he always has been. He won big at Penn. Christmas is a terrific player. He’s not their only piece. They were very, very impressive against Tennessee. They play two bigs (Olmos and Allen). They can play small, but they traditionally like to play two bigs and play a lot of high low and do a lot of stuff to get Christmas shots.

“They’re a very nice team.”

KU is a good team as well and two possessions away from being 9-0 with last second chances to win against Syracuse and UMass. Self is looking for a great effort from his team after the last four games of not playing “particularly well. I think a large part of it is because we haven’t practiced as well as we were practicing a little bit earlier.”

Self singled out freshman forward/center Markieff Morris (5.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) for making great strides in practice lately.

“I think he’s had a good couple of days,” Self said. “He was the best player in the gym (Tuesday). That’s a very positive thing.”

Self is trying to make his players understand that Kansas will get each team’s best shot this season, especially being the defending national champions. That was certainly the case against UMass, and Temple should be no different.

A week after shocking No. 8 Tennessee, the Owls hope to stun the Jayhawks and end their 29-game home-winning streak in Allen Fieldhouse.

“If we come out sluggish like we did last Saturday, we can be beat by anybody,” Morris said. “We got to play hard from the beginning to the end.”

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