Bill Self on return of former Jayhawks: ‘Those guys have given their heart and soul to this place’
Former Kansas point guard Jacque Vaughn settled in his seat behind KU’s basketball bench several minutes before the tip and remained in the lower level, northwest bleachers posing for pictures well after the Jayhawks’ 78-53 blowout victory over West Virginia on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Several other former KU players in town during NBA All-Star weekend headed toward the home team’s locker room after a KU victory that, coupled with a Kansas State defeat to Iowa State, moved the Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4) to one game (in the loss column) behind the Wildcats (9-3) in the Big 12 standings.
“It’s good to see those guys,” KU coach Bill Self said of a group of former Jayhawks that included Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Vaughn, plus Nick Collison, Scot Pollard, Wayne Simien, Alonzo Jamison, Kevin Young, Christian Moody, Conner Teahan, Jeff Hawkins, Tyrel Reed, Devonté Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman.
“Those guys love this place so much. They’ve certainly all been through the crap our young players are going through now. I think it’ll be good for our present players to be around them some. They mean an awful lot to many, but certainly mean a ton to our staff,” Self added.
Suffice it to say, the former KU players had a great time in their prime seats behind the bench as well as getting introduced to the fans at halftime.
They saw reserve forward K.J. Lawson score 15 points, his most as a KU player, and brother Dedric Lawson add 14 points and four rebounds as the Jayhawks gained revenge on the Mountaineers (10-15, 2-10) for their one-point victory over KU on Jan. 19 in Morgantown, W.V.
Devon Dotson contributed 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds and Ochai Agbaji 10 points for KU, which won its 20th game Saturday for the 30th consecutive season.
KU is now one 20-victory season away from tying the all-time NCAA record of 31 straight 20-win seasons by North Carolina (1971-2001).
Also, David McCormack scored 10 points and had four rebounds for the Jayhawks on Saturday. Lamont West and Chase Harler had 11 points for West Virginia.
“Seeing the cats we had last year (Newman, Graham, Mykhailiuk) and the Kevin Youngs of the world ... those guys have given their heart and soul to this place and me,” Self said. “It’s always cool to see them. Frank (Mason, Sacramento Kings) needed to go to the Bahamas. Everybody else wanted to vacation in Lawrence,” Self added, smiling.
KU kept veteran coach Bob Huggins from claiming his first victory at Allen Fieldhouse. The Huggins-led Mountaineers are 0-7 in Allen over the past seven campaigns. Huggins also lost a game at Allen as coach of Kansas State.
KU hit 52.8 percent of its shots (8 of 20 from three) in winning its 19th consecutive game at Allen. The Jayhawks are 14-0 in their own building this season. West Virginia hit 3 of 23 threes and 33.9 percent overall.
“David is improving,” Self said of McCormack who also had two steals and two blocks in 24 minutes. “Mitch (Lightfoot, seven rebounds, three blocks, five points) gave great energy again. He was a factor altering and blocking shots.
“Devon was great again, especially the first half (13 points as KU built 43-16 halftime lead). “Ochai was solid. Dedric was fine. K.J. was tremendous off the bench,” Self added.
Dedric Lawson said the current Jayhawks were inspired seeing so many past Jayhawks in town Saturday.
“They were happy we won and stuff like that,” Lawson said of the group of former players. “They were more excited to be here than we were to play in the game. This is a special, special place.”
KU, of course, is vying for a 15th straight league title.
Of KU’s improved chances, Self said: “It will come down to the last game of the year. For us to be a part of it, we’ll need to play very well that 48-hour stretch Saturday (at Texas Tech) and (week from) Monday (Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse).”
Kansas State lost at home to the Cyclones on Saturday, giving KSU a 9-3 record in the league. KU and Texas Tech are 9-4, Iowa State 8-4 and Baylor 7-5.
Dotson scored 13 points, grabbed three rebounds and dished three assists in 18 minutes as KU led 43-16 at halftime. Dedric Lawson had nine points and two boards in 18 minutes and K.J. Lawson seven points and a board in 10 minutes.
McCormack, who started his third straight game, had two blocks and three boards to go with four points in nine minutes the first half. Lightfoot had a block.
West Virginia had nobody score more than four points the first half. WVU hit 7 of 28 shots (.250) and was 1 of 10 from three. KU hit 4 of 10 threes and 14 of 25 shots overall for 56 percent.
KU used runs of 11-0 and 21-2 to turn an early 7-6 deficit into a 27-9 lead with 6:10 left in the half. Dedric Lawson had seven points, Dotson four in the surge.
The Mountaineers were without former starters Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris who were removed from the team recently for a violation of athletic department policies. The two combined for 13 points and eight rebounds versus KU in the first meeting. KU was without Marcus Garrett (ankle injury) for a fifth straight game and Lagerald Vick (indefinite leave of absence) a third straight game. Self said he hopes Garrett will be able to start practicing Monday and be available for the next game at Tech (7 p.m., Saturday, Lubbock, Texas).