Saturday's game against Texas will cap off the regular season for Kansas and the Jayhawks already know that they will be the top seed at the Big 12 tournament and at least have a share of the regular season title. But a win will give Kansas the outright title and KU isn't shy about expressing their desire to be the only team to put the year 2009 on a Big 12 regular season championship banner.
As always after spirited practice that ran close two hours Friday, KU
huddled at midcourt and repeated a cheer that's very popular in
Lawrence this time of year – "Big 12 Champs!"
"Absolutely," answered Self when asked if he cared about winning
outright. "I wouldn't want to share, and they wouldn't want to share.
Nobody likes to share. We're selfish, and everybody else is too. I do
care about winning the league a lot."
An honest assessment by a coach who has annually seen his teams at
every coaching stop contend for league titles. It would be yet another
feather in the cap of a young team that was picked to finish third in
the conference. Not only could KU win but it would equal the best
conference record for Self since his tenure at KU began (14-2).
"It will be really cool to have a chance to clinch it at home with
(tied for) the best league record we've had since we've been here,"
"We're not trying to share the title, especially not with Mizzou. It
feels better to win it outright than share it," said Sherron Collins.
If history is any indication, it won't be easy. Texas and Kansas played
some classics the last couple of seasons but with the stakes at their
highest KU seems to always manage the "W".
"Rick will have his guys fired up. Usually when they come in here he
has them fired up and playing well, as evidenced by when we had that
really good team a couple years ago and they came in here and had us
down 16 or 17 in the first half. So he'll have them ready to go," said
Self referring to a thrilling home win two years ago against Kevin Durant's Texas Longhorns.
"I think over the past couple years this has been made a rivalry, so
it's going to be tough game. It's going to be fun," Collins said.
"They're going to come in and be scrappy and tough."
The number one priority will be slowing down Texas sharpshooter A.J. Abrams. The 5-11 senior has a lightning quick release, averages nearly
17 a game, and shoots nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. Probably
not a welcome sight since KU's perimeter defense has been up to par
lately and especially after KU was lit up by Texas Tech's Alan Voskuil
on Wednesday night. Voskuil was on fire and torched KU's guards for 35
points including nine threes.
"I think he's harder. No disrespect to Voskuil, but I think he's harder
because he's faster," Self replied after being asked if Abrams was
tougher to guard than Voskuil. "But I think Voskuil is really, really
smart in how he uses his screens, and A.J. does such a great job of
creating separation because of his speed. They're both hard to guard,
especially if you let a guy get comfortable like we did Voskuil the
other night. But I think A.J. is a more difficult guard because of his
raw speed, and he has a very quick release."
"I'm not so sure if he hasn't had as good of a year as we've had here
in a long time from any player. He's really been good," according to
Texas coach Rick Barnes. "He's had a phenomenal run here at Texas. He
really has, but I'm not surprised because I watch him every day."
Abrams is quick without the ball and just needs the slimmest of margins
to get a shot up. Though he's just 5-11, he does elevate on the shot.
For most of the season Brady Morningstar has drawn the first defensive
assignment on the other team's best guard. That will likely be the case
again but expect to see a variety of bodies take a crack at slowing
"All of our perimeter guys could stick to him. I don't know who Coach
is going to put on him yet. I think he's probably going to put Brady
(Morningstar) on him to start off, just to see what he can do. Brady's
a little longer. I think we can match up with him though," Collins
A challenge Brady Morningstar would welcome especially after failing to
shut down Voskuil on Wednesday.
"I hope I get to guard him. I can try to redeem myself a little bit and
get back to how I used to play," Morningstar said.
Texas is led by Abrams without question and a big part of KU's success
this season includes the tandem of sophomore center Cole Aldrich and
KU's two most "experienced" players provide quite a one-two punch for
any opponent. The Jayhawks are difficult to beat when these two are
clicking. On Friday, Self reflected on both their seasons and called
Cole "a tough kid" and marveled at the year Collins has had.
But Wednesday night both suffered an off night – they combined to go
4-24 from the floor with Collins going 1-10 from three, and they scored
just 19 combined points. Texas does not expect numbers like that to
continue on Saturday. Barnes expects to see more Cole and Sherron-like
numbers. The duo normally averages over 33 points a game for KU.
"I think when you have two positions covered like they do with Cole
Aldrich and Sherron Collins, two very important spots on the floor with
two all-conference players, that's a great starting point," said
Barnes. "I think Bill [Self]'s done a great job of blending in the
other players into that group."
So when it is all said and done, maybe KU was taught a valuable lesson
on Wednesday night in Lubbock. Last season a critical time for the
Jayhawks was an equally disappointing loss at Oklahoma State. The
players met, aired out their feelings and went on a tear that KU fans
will remember for a long time.
There is no such thing as a good loss but learning that when the
calendar hits March you must bring it every night or go home is not a
negative thing for a young KU team before
we hit a time where they'll play the games that matter most.
KU Shoots For Outright Title
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