Denver John Wallace has broken bread at the Roy Williams household.
"I still remember my recruiting visit. The morning I left, coach's wife cooked us waffles. They were really good," said Wallace, Syracuse University's 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior forward from Rochester, N.Y.
Wallace, who picked Syracuse over runner-up KU, will take a 22.3 scoring and 8.6 rebounding average into today's NCAA West Regional final against Kansas. Tipoff is 1:40 p.m. at McNichols Arena with a live telecast on CBS.
"My freshman year (1993), we didn't make the NCAA Tournament and Kansas went to the Final Four," Wallace said. "A lot of people asked me if I made a mistake. Now four years later, if we win, it will have been worth the wait."
Wallace says he's playing for Syracuse, not KU, because of "proximity to home."
"He came to our place and had a good visit," KU coach Williams said. "There were three questions very important to John at one time and all the answers came out Kansas. But he said, 'Coach, I still think distance is important.' I think distance and the fact Syracuse is a great program kept him closer to home."
Wallace scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Friday's 83-81 overtime victory over Georgia. He hit a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left, propelling the Orangemen to their 27th victory against eight losses. KU enters 29-4.
"John is the focal part of their team," Williams said. "He has size and ability to shoot the three. We've got to be aware of where he is. He'll be a focus for us. At the same time, they have other outstanding players like Sims (Lazarus, 6-4 point guard, 7.5 assist average). They have an outstanding team."
KU's Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard and B.J. Williams all will try to slow Wallace.
"It will be a big challenge. John and Otis (Hill, 6-8 center, 12.5 scoring average) are great players with great inside games," LaFrentz said. Hill scored 19 points and had 11 rebounds against Georgia.
"They combined for 49 points. Raef and I combined for six last night," Pollard said, referring to KU's 83-80 semifinal win over Arizona. Pollard had seven points and LaFrentz a career-low one in that game.
"I jokingly said to Raef, 'Maybe we were saving up for tomorrow against Syracuse,''' Pollard added with a laugh.
KU forward B.J. Williams burned Arizona for a career-high 18 points and nine rebounds.
"I think it gives me more incentive to play defense. I'll probably draw him when I'm in there," Williams said of Wallace. "I'm just going to play him like I've played everybody all year. I'll try to deny him the ball. When he gets it, I'll put a hand up when he shoots it."
Kansas pride: Fort Hays State won the NCAA Div. II championship Saturday. KU is one win from a Final Four berth. The Jayhawk women advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Tennessee.
"Not only cows and pastures are in the middle of the country, but pretty good basketball, too," KU point guard Jacque Vaughn quipped.
"The state of college basketball is pretty good for us now," Pollard said. "Our women gave quite an effort making the Sweet 16. We have passed what we accomplished the last two years."
KU had lost in the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, falling to Purdue and Virginia.
"It definitely was something of a release off my back," Vaughn said, "especially being a point guard. We did achieve something we set out to achieve. The makeup of this team is special. We have a common goal and dream."
"I look at each season individually," coach Williams noted. "With this team, it was a little bit of a hurdle. A couple people talked about it. We did want to go a little further."
Bald heads?: KU's Pollard said a "rumor" was going around that several Jayhawks might shave their heads if they win the national title.
"I'm not getting my ear pierced," coach Williams joked.
California pride: A reporter asked KU's California players if they were playing for California pride today.
The answer was no.
"I don't think they think in those terms," Williams said of his players. "At this point you are playing for yourself and your dreams and No. 2, for your teammates, your school, your pride.
"I was born in Spruce Pine, N.C., and don't think I'm playing for Spruce Pine," Williams added.
"Actually there's no hospital in Spruce Pine, so I really was born in Marion," he added with a laugh.
Game plan: Syracuse, which likes to play a 2-3 zone, may slow the tempo against KU today. The Orangemen average 76.8 points and allow 68.4.
"We'll still try to speed the tempo. We like to play in the 80s and 90s," Williams said. "We we like to think we can win in the 50s and 60s, too. We like going up and down, a faster pace. I like it. I don't have time for thinking on the bench."
Support: Williams on the pro-KU crowd at McNichols Arena. "We've had great support on the road all year. Hopefully it'll be big and loud and give us a few points," he said.
- For a halftime update and the final score call Access at 865-5000, category 6000.