Kansas’ basketball players have been instructed to rest, relax and forget about hoops for three days before returning to campus on Monday to begin preparing for the start of Big 12 Conference play.
“Like (for) everybody else, it’s a rushed time for us,” KU coach Bill Self said of members of the Jayhawks’ traveling party.
The players scattered to their own hometowns or hometowns of friends following Thursday’s 71-53 victory over UNLV at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“It is (hectic) for the players. We like to make sure they get home the 23rd. We’ll (Self, son Tyler and wife Cindy) go back home and spend time with family. This is a nice time, (but) a day or two short for everybody,” added Self, who would love to extend the players’ vacation to four or five days.
That’s not possible, however.
KU, 11-1, needs practice time in preparation for its league opener against TCU on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I think this team is capable of playing at a high level,” Self said of the Jayhawks, who will be without injured freshman center Udoka Azubuike the rest of the season. “Baylor has shown they can (play at high level). West Virginia has shown they can. Others have, too. It’s going to be difficult.”
Preparing for the Big 12 grind can wait a few days, with Self and his players and assistants determined to enjoy the Christmas holiday.
If Self could receive one special Christmas gift, what would it be?
“I know what I’d like. It would be free throw touch. That would be first and foremost,” Self said.
The Jayhawks, who made just 8 of 17 free throws against UNLV, have cashed 155 of 262 free throws in nonconference play for 59.2 percent.
Self wishes for “health as much as anything.”
The Jayhawks coaches and players were saddened this week by the news Azubuike would miss the remainder of the season after tearing ligaments in his left wrist at practice on Tuesday.
The 7-foot, 260-pound Azubuike’s freshman season ended with him averaging 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds a game. KU’s other freshman McDonald’s All-American, Josh Jackson, who scored 21 versus UNLV, heads into the break averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 boards.
“I think he’s shown unbelievable improvement since the season started,” Self said. “And he didn’t have a bad game against Indiana. He had nine points in the game in which he fouled out and probably played 16 minutes. I mean, that’s not a bad game. But certainly he’s been much better since then.”
As far as improvements to be made by Jackson, Self said he could improve his free throw shooting (54.2 percent) and offensive rebounding. He has 28 offensive rebounds, which leads the team.
“I like this team a lot,” Self said. “This team is fun. They are unselfish, can pass, like each other and don’t care about stats and those sorts of things. At least not to date. This is an awfully fun team to be around. To me the most fun team we had coaching was when Thomas (Robinson) was a junior with (Jeff) Withey, Travis (Releford) and Elijah (Johnson). That (2011-12) team went to the (national) championship game. Conner (Teahan) was sixth man. Kevin Young was our seventh man. We didn’t have a lot of depth. That was a fun team because they were so tough.
“The national championship team was certainly fun. I could make a case the year after that (2008-09, 27-8 record) was as much fun. We had a bunch of young kids who really didn’t know what they were doing, battling and having fun. They are all fun in their own way. I do like this team a lot.”
Svi thwarts possible UNLV comeback
KU junior Svi Mykhailiuk pretty much single-handedly made sure there was no drama in the final minutes of Thursday’s win over UNLV. UNLV had sliced a game-high deficit of 24-points (44-20) to 12 (64-52) with 3:49 left when Mykhailiuk made a layup, then a three-pointer which assured victory.
Mykhailiuk, who scored a season-high 20 points, has scored in double figures in six straight games and averages 11.1 points a game. He’s made 27 of 62 three-pointers, good for 43.5 percent.
“Certainly Svi bailed us out,” Self said. “I thought he played very well.”
“I just took open shots,” said Mykhailiuk, who hit 4 of 6 threes. “Coming off ball screens I was open and took the shot.”
Mykhailiuk, who is from Ukraine, said he’ll spend Christmas in Lawrence.
KU fizzles in second half
KU’s 29-point second half, which Jackson said was partly caused by “fatigue,” led to a 71-point performance, the Jayhawks’ second-lowest scoring output of the season. KU beat Georgia, 65-54, on Nov. 22 at the Sprint Center. KU enters Christmas break having averaged 86.6 points a game while allowing 67.5.