Kansas basketball coach Bill Self takes nothing for granted regarding his team’s pursuit of a 13th straight Big 12 regular-season title.
“The league race is not over yet. TCU was up 12 on us the first time we played them. They could come in and beat us. Iowa State proved that. Other teams can do that,” said Self in previewing Wednesday’s KU-TCU game, which is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff at Allen Fieldhouse.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks (24-3, 12-2 Big 12) — who trailed TCU (17-10, 6-8) by 10 points in the first half of a narrow 86-80 victory over the Horned Frogs on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas, and lost at home to Iowa State 92-89 in overtime on Feb. 4 — do not have the championship assured yet, but they are mighty close to clipping the nets.
“If we win (Wednesday), we clinch at least a share,” Self said, acknowledging he’s aware of what it would take to tie UCLA for most consecutive regular-season conference crowns in college basketball history. The Bruins won 13 straight Pac-10 titles under John Wooden, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham during 1967-79.
The Jayhawks enter Wednesday’s game with a 2 1/2 -game lead over Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State (all 10-5) in the league standings with four games to play.
“I think we’ll be excited to play and focused,” Self said, noting he would not stress the implications of Wednesday’s game before the game.
“I won’t give an impactful speech about that. I don’t think those really work that well anyway — at least mine don’t. Maybe mine just aren’t any good. We’ll talk about how this can be a special night, but it won’t be anything more than that.”
There figures to be a short trophy presentation and ceremony after the game … if the Jayhawks win. That would follow an eventful halftime in which former KU player Brandon Rush will have his No. 25 jersey retired and placed high in the south rafters.
Rush, a starter on KU’s 2008 NCAA title team, would love to witness KU winning its 60th overall conference crown, best by far of any Division I team. Kentucky is second with 47 conference crowns.
“That’s big to win 13 straight times,” Rush said. “He (Self) has a really talented team. He’s got a great team. Frank (Mason) has been amazing. It’s not surprising them winning another Big 12 title.”
First things first, as Self would say.
KU on Wednesday will try to slow 6-foot-11 junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky, who scored a career-high 28 points in the first game against TCU.
“They were so good off ball screens and rolling him to the basket. We did an awful job guarding it,” Self said. “They picked on us, found something that worked. He’s a good player. We didn’t guard him very well.”
Guards Kenrich Williams and Alex Robinson combined for 21 points with six assists against four turnovers. KU, which had an off night shooting (43.3 percent, including 8 of 22 from three), did have five players score in double figures: Mason scored 22 points, Lagerald Vick had 17, Landen Lucas added 15 (with 17 rebounds), Svi Mykhailiuk scored 12 and Devonté Graham added 11.
“It feels like a different season since we’ve played them,” Self said. The TCU game was the league opener for both squads.
“They’ve changed a lot. We’ve certainly changed a lot. I look back, we’re still trying to do comparable things as we did before.”
TCU, which has lost nine straight games to KU and has a 1-13 mark against the Jayhawks all-time, has won six games in the conference for the first time. The Horned Frogs have been in the league five years.
“They are 6-8, but that could be 8-6,” Self said of coach Jamie Dixon’s first TCU squad. “They’ve also won a couple of close games. Everybody in our league can say, like with us, we’re 12-2, that could easily be 9-5. Somebody 9-5 could easily be 12-2. There have been so many close games. They’ve obviously played their fair share as well.”
TCU enters on a three-game losing streak, having fallen to Iowa State by 13 points, Oklahoma State by three and Baylor by 18. KU is 9-1 in Big 12 games decided by single digits; TCU is 5-3 in league games decided by single digits.
“It never feels easy to me. This year certainly hasn’t felt easy,” Self said, when asked about the seasons in which KU has won its league. “We’ve had so many games we’ve been behind and had to come back. It’s ridiculous how tight our games have been. There’s nothing that’s been easy about this year.”
KU, since the start of Big 12 play, has won games after falling behind by double digits six times — Saturday at Baylor (12 points), at TCU (10), vs. Oklahoma State (11), at Kentucky (12), at Kansas State (12) and vs. West Virginia (14). KU also overcame nine-point deficits in wins over K-State and at Oklahoma and an eight-point deficit against Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’ve kind of grown up knowing KU wins Big 12 every year. Until I got here I didn’t know how hard it was,” freshman Mitch Lightfoot said. “I didn’t realize all the stuff that went into it. It’s hard. This is a tough league. Every team here has a chance to win every game they play. It’s been awesome getting to see how challenging it is.”
Of playing for the league title Wednesday, Lightfoot added: “It’s certainly gone through our minds. We said something about it. The thing for us is that’s what is expected. We’ve got to win games and win games we’re supposed to win.”