This Is The Time

February has just begun and KU head coach Bill Self hopes this is the start of a very special stretch of basketball for his newly minted number one team.

Bill Self said it at his weekly meeting with the media on Monday. February is a month where all good teams make their moves.

But where do you go if you're already the number one ranked team?

"I'd rather play like a number one team than be ranked number one. Hopefully we can do that," said Self. "I'd rather be ranked number one on February first than on December first, but I'd rather be ranked number one on March first than February first. The longer you're ranked high, the better season you've had. I think we've done a lot of things this year even though in a lot of people's minds we haven't played great. I just hope we're playing our best ball when it counts the most."

"Of course I like being number one, who wouldn't?," Marcus Morris asked rhetorically. "But that is not our main focus right now. Our main focus is to get better every day. I feel like we have earned it somewhat. Texas lost. Kentucky lost, both in close games. Our game was close too, and that could have gone either way."

Kansas finished January with two strong statement wins trouncing Missouri at home and winning and nip-and-tuck nailbiter in overtime at Kansas State. But it only gets tougher from here. This month there are still road games at Texas, at Texas A&M, and at Oklahoma State.  Then as March comes in like a lion there is a rematch at home with K-State and the season finishes with another rivalry rematch at Missouri. You can be sure this team will be battle-tested when tournament time hits.

"I talked to the young guys a little bit. These games are going to start coming fast and they are going to be tough games. You have to be ready for it," said sophomore Marcus Morris.

"I think so," answered Tyrel Reed when asked if KU was ready for this upcoming stretch. "You break up your seasons. You've got preseason, nonconference and now we are getting into the brunt of conference. We have got to be ready. We have a game Wednesday, Saturday and Monday. So we have to stay focused and keep getting better."

For now Kansas has a two-game cushion in the standings. It's an arm's length lead but really not enough to breathe a sigh of relief. As Self warned people Monday – there's still a long way to go and a lot can happen.

"It's a good place to be but if you don't take care of business on Wednesday and your future opponents win it's a one game lead and you still have to go to your hard places. I think two games is nice. We've had a two-game lead before and not won it outright. We put ourselves in a nice position but it's still a long way from being decided and they're will be a lot of movement between now and the end of conference play," Self concluded.

But things definitely appear to be on the uptick for Kansas. Sherron Collins continues to be clutch.

"I remember sitting in the timeout and Sherron [Collins] was cramping. I thought to myself, it doesn't matter if he's cramping, he will still be out there. That is just the type of guy he is. He's just a great competitor and a great leader of our team," said Aldrich.

Cole Aldrich is starting to again look like the #45 of old and his game turns the corner.

"It was a slow start for him at the beginning of the year. Now he's Cole again," boasted his national championship teammate. "He was just in a slump and he was going through some hard times. We had his back and we were supportive of him and encouraging him and now he's starting to play again. I'm glad he came around now and not later in the year."

And Marcus Morris is putting up outstanding numbers on a consistent basis. Morris leads the Jayhawks in scoring in conference play (17.8ppg) and is crashing the boards with reckless abandon (8.2 rpg in conference).

"He's done a great job utilizing his ball-handling and his quickness. And defensively he's become a very good defender. And he's a great offensive rebounder right now. A lot of it is just confidence. A lot of it is just things falling together for him. He's a sophomore it should be a little easier this year but he's really played himself into being a really good performer. He's one of the better players around," according to Self.

KU can also build off the composure it showed in Manhattan in a hostile environment it vowed to embrace. The coaching staff and the two team leaders (Aldrich and Collins) seemed to instill this belief up and down the bench and it showed in body language and result on Saturday.

"I thought we did a good job," said Reed who arguably made the biggest play of the game against K-State with his last second strip in regulation. "I thought we were calm out there and collected. When you are on the road, you have to think of the next play the whole game. I thought our guys did a good job of that in the first half and the second half. We kept our cool and just kept thinking next play."

"You say that but we had a three-point lead with the ball and we don't get a shot two possessions in a row," said Self with a smile. "Sherron said he cramped up and then we had a bad turnover which led to a three-point play when you can't foul in that situation so I don't know that we kept our cool that good. But other than that I thought we played with great poise I liked our body language I liked our facial expressions. I thought the guys acted pretty mature."

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