After failing to win the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in 15 seasons, Kansas’ basketball team Thursday begins its quest for a ninth conference postseason tournament title in the 16-year Bill Self era.
“I do think there will be a sense of urgency,” Self said, referring to his No. 17-ranked players who take a 23-8 record and No. 3 seeding into a quarterfinal clash against Texas (16-15). Tipoff is approximately 8:30 p.m. at the Sprint Center.
“I think they’ll be very excited to a part of this and go roll the dice.”
Self’s Jayhawks have won the tournament eight times and lost in the finals once. They’ve also lost in the quarterfinals twice and the semifinals four times.
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“I think we have to make shots,” Self said after the Jayhawks put on a successful shooting exhibition in a 40-minute shootaround Wednesday afternoon at the Sprint Center. At one point in a scrimmage situation Dedric Lawson, Ochai Agbaji and Mitch Lightfoot drilled threes on successive possessions.
“I think we have to defensive rebound. I think we have to grow up and play beyond our years a little bit.
“’How do you do it?’ How did we do it in other particular games this season? We have been bad away from home — on the road. But the other 20 games of the season we haven’t been that bad. We are actually 3-0 at neutral sites and undefeated at home (16-0) and this is a neutral site. I do think that we’re capable of playing at that high level, but the team that will advance will be the one like our team last year.”
KU, which this season is led by versatile forward Dedric Lawson (19.1 points, 10.6 rebounds per game), was paced a year ago by hot-shooting guards Devonté Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman. KU stormed to wins at Sprint Center over Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia in the title game.
“Malik got hot and Devonté got hot and Svi got hot. We made shots. That’s what needs to happen,” Self said. “We need to have some guys step up and make some shots. We’ve shown we’re capable of doing that. We’ve had multiple games where we’ve had double-figure threes, but we’ve had too many games where people have had career nights against us shooting the ball. That’s what we need to eliminate. We’ve got to make other people play poorly.”
KU defeated New Mexico State, 63-60, in the Jayhawks’ only appearance at the Sprint Center this season.
“If it was a road game, maybe we wouldn’t have as much confidence, just because we haven’t fared nearly as well on the road this year as we have in years past,” said Self. KU was 3-8 in true road games this season. “But from a neutral-site standpoint, we should approach that like it being a home game for us.”
Lawson said the Jayhawks will be fired up, not just because the game is to be played so close to KU’s campus.
“I’m just eager to get back out there knowing this really counts for something,” Lawson said. “Going to the Big 12 Tournament … just trying to take away the mindset of losing the Big 12 title. We want to win the Big 12 Conference (tournament) and get some momentum going into March Madness.”
KU’s players have had to hear a lot of talk about being the ones responsible for the end of KU’s 14-year regular-season conference title streak.
“We should have continued the streak, but a couple games we lost were definitely our fault,” Lawson said. “Going out and winning the Big 12 (Tournament) is something we need going toward the (NCAA) Tournament. It gives us an extra push getting guys’ confidence going into March Madness.”
KU is 1-1 against Thursday’s foe — Texas. KU won, 80-78, on Jan. 14 at Allen Fieldhouse then lost, 73-63, 15 days later in Austin, Texas.
“I think Texas is without question one of the more talented teams in our league. They have arguably the best prospect in our league — Jaxson Hayes — from an NBA standpoint and have other bigs who have given us problems. They have four or five guards when you add Roach (Kerwin, back from suspension) into the mix who are really good. They definitely pose a threat no matter who they are playing,” Self said.
The winner advances into Friday’s 8:30 p.m. semifinal against either Texas Tech, Oklahoma or West Virginia. The final is at 5 p.m. Saturday. KU is hoping to win its second-straight tourney title ... partly to improve its NCAA seed on Selection Sunday.
“I feel we’re playing for at least two, maybe three seed lines … what could be good and what could potentially be poor,” Self said Wednesday. KU is believed to be a 3 or 4 seed entering the tourney. “I would think we’ll be motivated,” he added.