Kansas senior Frank Mason, who leads the Big 12 in scoring at the halfway point of the conference season, won’t be personally campaigning for any postseason awards.
“I really don’t care about national player of the year,” Mason, a 5-foot-11 guard from Petersburg, Va., said Wednesday after scoring 19 points with six assists, four rebounds and three steals in the Jayhawks’ 73-68 victory over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
“If we had an award for national team of the year, that’s what I care about,” said Mason. “Other than that, I just want to do what I can do to help the team. Whatever comes with that, we’ll take. But we just want to be No. 1 when it really matters as a team.”
Mason, who averages 19.9 points and 5.2 assists (fourth in the Big 12) per game — faces national player of the year competition from Villanova’s Josh Hart, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Duke’s Luke Kennard, Kentucky’s Malik Monk and certainly some others.
“We care more than Frank, not that he wouldn’t care to have that honor,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of national player of the year. “When has anybody ever interviewed Frank and he talked about himself? It never happens. It’s why he’s the coolest kid around. All he does is talk about others. If Frank was hung up on that, he’d be saying, ‘I had to make a play. I had to do this or that.’
“Instead he’s always saying, ‘If it wasn’t me doing it, it’d be someone else on the team doing it.’ His whole approach is different. He’ll have a chance to play his way into that conversation. If he does well, he’ll be right there. If he doesn’t play well, he might not be. He’s going to be a first-team All-American.”
Self’s words of praise figure to be noticed by voters for national awards.
“He’s had an unbelievable year,” Self said of Mason, who Wednesday passed Kenny Gregory and Jeff Boschee to move into 16th on KU’s all-time scoring list (1,569 points). He also passed the 500 mark in assists and is ninth all-time at Kansas with 503.
“I think he’s only had one or two games where he’s played poorly. He’s been ridiculously consistent, Self said. “He gives us our personality and energy. All he cares about is our team winning.”
Mason hit 12 of 12 free throws versus Baylor, the most free throws made without a miss by a Jayhawk since Darnell Valentine also went 12 of 12 versus Oklahoma on Jan. 23, 1980, in Norman, Okla.
For the year, Mason has made 145 of 290 floor shots for an even 50 percent. He’s cashed 49 of 96 threes for 51 percent and 98 of 131 free throws for 74.8 percent.
“That’s the goal, to get better and better every day on and off the court,” Mason said. “I’m working toward that and just enjoying every day as a Jayhawk.”
Big 12 race at halfway point
The Jayhawks completed the first half of the Big 12 schedule with an 8-1 league record. Baylor is a game back at 7-2, followed by West Virginia (6-3), Iowa State (5-4), Kansas State and TCU (4-5), Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State (3-6) and Oklahoma (2-7).
“Obviously we are happy to be where we are at. We also know no games are won by halftime, either,” Self said Thursday’s on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Obviously the second half is far more important than the first half. You may not have time to recover if mistakes are made. We understand that. Everybody has played everybody now, but certainly teams may have more favorable schedules than us just because of where they played folks home and on the road.
“I know and our players will understand just how difficult these last four weeks will be trying to capture a championship, because they know every game is a huge game. Certainly places we return to have been teams that have basically extended us all the way at home. We know every game is going to be difficult.”
Drew on Ish’s miss
Baylor coach Scott Drew on Thursday on the coaches call was asked about Ishmail Wainright missing a three-point shot with 19 seconds left and Kansas up 70-68. That was the play where Kansas big man Landen Lucas picked himself off the floor, then hustled from one end of the court to another to contest the shot.
“It was a transition opportunity for us,” Drew said. “We came down (after KU turnover), Manu (Lecomte) saw the open guy. Ish had a really good look. Credit Lucas for hustling back into the play coming from behind where Ish couldn’t see him.
“(Lucas) altered, contested, interrupted, disrupted, whatever word you want to use, the shot. Lucas deserves credit for his hustle. Ish wouldn’t have shot it if he knew Lucas was coming from behind,” Drew added.
Baylor would get only one more possession following a free throw by Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk that made it 71-68 with 17 seconds left. The Bears committed a turnover on that final possession.
No. 3-ranked Kansas (20-2, 8-1 Big 12) will next meet Iowa State (13-8, 5-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, at Allen Fieldhouse. The Cyclones are 2-2 since falling to KU, 76-72, on Jan. 16, in Ames, Iowa.