Bill Self wandered from one end of Kansas’ basketball bench to the other, stopping in front of freshman Quentin Grimes, who had just guzzled some Gatorade to alleviate pain from a severe cramp he sustained down the stretch of Friday’s 88-74 Big 12 Tournament semifinal victory over West Virginia at the Sprint Center.
What did KU coach Self say to the 6-foot-5 Grimes, who with six minutes remaining in a blowout win obviously was finished for the night? Grimes had filled the stat sheet with 18 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting. He also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds with four assists and a career-best four steals in 31 minutes.
“Coach was talking about my cramp, talking like, ‘Airball,’’’ Grimes said with a smile. His left thigh cramped while going up for a three-point shot with six minutes to play and KU up by 17 points.
“I said (to Self), ‘The cramp came when I jumped up. That’s why I airballed.’ I’m going to go with that,” Grimes added, noting, “I’ve never had as much pain from a cramp like that. It was my whole thigh.”
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Self — he likes to joke around with his players once in a while — was dead serious when he approached Grimes in the locker room at halftime.
Grimes exploded for 16 points the first half off 5-of-5 three-point shooting. He had 10 points in a half-ending 16-4 run that gave the Jayhawks a 48-40 lead at the break. Included was a four-point play. Grimes hit a three, was fouled and canned a free throw that gave KU a 38-36 lead.
“Coach said, ‘Great half. Keep shooting the ball.’ I know how proud of me he was for sure,” Grimes said after setting a personal record for three-point makes in a Big 12 game. He had four against Oklahoma State on March 2. Grimes’ five threes were one off a career high. He hit six threes in the season-opener against Michigan State.
“I like to rebound more (than make shots),” Grimes quickly added, noting he feels he can grab eight or more boards on a regular basis. “I’m a bigger guard. When I get the rebound I can look ahead, see the defense and make easy plays for my teammates.”
Grimes, who has been showing more emotion on the court of late, appeared especially energized after hitting a three to beat the halftime buzzer.
Backup guard Charlie Moore jumped high in bumping into Grimes, the two celebrating Grimes’ bucket as they headed to to hear Self’s halftime chat.
“Sometimes players can be jealous if somebody does well. Nobody here is jealous of anybody,” Grimes said. “Jumping up with Charlie, him being super excited for me is what it’s all about.”
Grimes — he had 12 points Thursday in a quarterfinal win over Texas — says he’ll be fired up mentally and fine physically for Saturday’s 5 p.m. final versus Iowa State. The No. 5 seeded Cyclones defeated No. 1 seed Kansas State, 63-59, in Friday’s other semifinal.
“I’ll be fine. I’m good,” Grimes said. “We’re really excited getting to play for the championship.”
Grimes was KU’s second-leading scorer behind Dedric Lawson, who had 24 points. Also, Devon Dotson had 13 points and six assists (11 points the first half), Marcus Garrett 11 points and five boards, Mitch Lightfoot four blocked shots and Ochai Agbaji nine points and two blocks with three rebounds.
“He just got a cramp. So he’s fine,” Self said of Grimes. “I guess he needs to drink a lot of water and he should be fine. He shot the ball ridiculously well (5 of 5 threes first half; 5 of 8 from three for game and 6 of 13 overall) the first half and there was absolutely no hesitation. He was so confident. Second half his looks were good.
“The last one he didn’t get close because I think he cramped in his shot. It’s a weapon we desperately need and certainly something that … we need a guy to catch fire like that that can carry us a four- or five-minute stretch. If it weren’t for him over a four- or five-minute stretch, West Virginia controlled the first half. We ended up going up eight primarily because of Quentin.”
The No. 17-ranked, No. 3 seed Jayhawks (25-8) split the regular-season series against Saturday’s foe, unranked fifth seed Iowa State (22-11).
Self hopes KU fans can find a way to get into the Sprint Center. It appeared ISU had more fans than Kansas State for Friday’s semifinal.
“I hope our fans are creative,” Self said, “but I bet you Iowa State has 70 percent of the building tomorrow. The reason I say that is when you play that first game and you win, now you’re able to hustle the tickets off the team that didn’t win. And they are pros at hustling tickets in Kansas City. I would say it will be the first time in a long time we probably won’t have a comparable home court is what I predict.
“Our people show up and they’ll compete just like we will tomorrow. It should be a fun day and certainly a game in which I think will be fun to play. There will be good players out there on the court.”
NOTES: KU leads the all-time series against West Virginia, 12-5. … KU split the regular-season series versus West Virginia, losing 65-64 on Jan. 19 in Morgantown, W.Va., then winning, 78-53, on Feb. 16 at Allen Fieldhouse. …. The Jayhawks have won six of the last seven meetings and eight of 10. … Bill Self is 12-5 versus West Virginia as KU’s coach. …Kansas is 22-16 all-time in conference tournament semifinals, including 14-6 in the Big 12 championship. … At least one recruiting analyst believes KU will land Cassius Stanley, a 6-foot-5 senior guard from Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, Calif., who is ranked No. 33 in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com. Stanley has a final three of KU, UCLA and Oregon. However, UCLA at this time has no head coach. “The Jayhawks, despite holding two 2019 guard commits (Christian Braun, Issac McBride), may be the top contender, but there have been whispers that a few new entrants have entered the race. The bet here is that Stanley will be a Jayhawk on April 17,” Rivals.com analyst Corey Evans wrote Friday. … Precious Achiuwa, a 6-9 senior forward from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, who recently made a campus visit to KU, is in the midst of “one of the more mysterious recruitments,” wrote Evans of Rivals.com. Achiuwa, who is ranked No. 16 by Rivals.com, has visited KU, Memphis, Western Kentucky and North Carolina. UConn and St. John’s also have been considered possibilities. He’s never created an official list. “Naming a favorite is difficult, but it does sound as if others are attempting to the enter the mix, which could lead to a super-late signing. Georgia is a darkhorse that has shown interest and there has even been talk that the new G-League initiative could be an option. Regardless, a signing seems to be far off, with a leader still unknown,” wrote Evans.