Denver KU's deep bench may give the Jayhawks some extra breathing room.
Pressure is building on Kansas Jayhawks as they climb the NCAA Tournament mountain.
Players know it.
Huge signs at entrances to McNichols Sports Arena proclaim it.
After handling mental pressures posed by two modest peaks -- blowout tournament victories in Tempe, Ariz. -- the Jayhawks will sense a new kind of pressure in the air.
KU will be burdened with atmospheric pressure about 9:30 tonight when it takes on the University of Arizona in a Sweet 16 showdown in the Mile High City.
McNichols Arena sits 5,280 feet above sea level. That's more than 4,400 feet higher than Lawrence.
"What occurs, if you're exercising with intensity at high altitude, is an earlier onset of fatigue," said Jeff Potteiger, director of KU's exercise physiology laboratory.
Visitors in basketball uniforms will experience an increase in frequency and depth of their breathing.
Will the Jayhawks be stricken by altitude sickness -- headache, euphoria, faulty judgment -- and spontaneously belt out a John Denver ballad at center court?
"That may happen," joked James LaPoint, KU associate professor of health, physical education and recreation.
Among four teams at the West Regional semifinal, Arizona regularly plays at the highest level. The Wildcats' home court in Tucson is 2,389 feet above sea level, while KU's Allen Fieldhouse sits 843 feet above the water line.
Home for Syracuse is 406 feet above sea level in Syracuse, N.Y. Georgia toils in Athens at 775 feet.
Potteiger said KU Coach Roy Williams' liberal substitution strategy may offer a competitive edge.
"They'll want to try to give those kids time to recover and get oxygen to their tissues," he said.
However, Williams dismissed the idea altitude affected his basketball team.
His counterpart, Arizona Coach Lute Olson, said altitude would modify his game plan.
"You've got to pull guys more often," he said. "But 30 seconds is long enough."
Potteiger said KU players shouldn't bother with Band-Aid shaped "breathing aids" worn by some athletes on the nose.
They're sort of the mood ring of the 1990s.
"Basically worthless," Potteiger said. "I've never seen any research stating nasal strips improve performance."
Regardless of common perception, KU players had no chance of acclimating to high altitude after arriving Wednesday. It takes two weeks to fully come to grips with Denver's atmospheric pressure, Potteiger said.
"The old theory about going a couple days ahead of time doesn't hold much weight," he said.
He cracks up whenever athletes run to the oxygen tank for a fill during football games at low altitude.
"I always laugh at Chiefs games," he said. "You could only make an argument for using them at high altitude."
It'd be a breath of fresh air for KU fans if the Jayhawks sucked up more of the tournament atmosphere and had a gas in Denver.