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Archive for Thursday, March 4, 1999

S GUESS AS TO WHO WILL CLAIM THE CHAMPIONSHIP.

March 4, 1999

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— It would take a minor miracle for Baylor to win the Big 12 men's basketball tournament.

The Bears, after all, went winless during the regular season.

As far as the other 11 teams ... the conference's third-annual tournament might best be described as "up for grabs."

"The past couple years, we have been very, very good. For somebody to have beaten Kansas, they would have had to play very well and we'd have to play poorly," KU coach Roy Williams said.

The Jayhawks, who open tourney play against Nebraska or Texas Tech at 8:20 p.m. Friday at KC's Kemper Arena, enter as two-time defending Big 12 tourney champs.

"I think this year Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska -- the teams who have done it during the regular season -- have to be favored," Williams said.

"But in a four-day tournament, a team more often than not will come from nowhere and win it more than the regular season, which is based on so many more games."

The tournament opens today at noon when No. 8 seed Iowa State meets No. 9 seed Colorado. At 2:20 p.m., No. 5 Oklahoma State tangles with No. 12 Baylor. No. 7 Kansas State will meet No. 10 Texas A&M at 6 p.m, with No. 6 Nebraska to meet No. 11 Texas Tech at 8:20.

The Jayhawks are defending champs until somebody knocks them off.

"I'll say, `We've won it and they (experts) say we can't continue to win it. Let's see if we can do it one more year,'" Williams said of his message to the team. "It'll be just a very small statement I make. We've got to focus on how we're playing."

The tourney may be the most wide open in Williams' 11 years at KU. The Jayhawks competed in the Big Eight tourney Williams' first eight years, the Big 12 the last two.

"My second year, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas spent the entire season trading spots 1, 2 and 3 in the country," Williams said. "That year would come to mind.

"The perception is the league is not as strong as the past. We haven't done anything to warrant somebody to say that's wrong. We have not had a great year in our nonconference competition.

"I think so many nonconference games come early. You look at the league, in some of the early-season matchups a lot of teams were young teams. Then once the kids get experience, you get in the season and you take turns beating each other. It prevents league teams from going anywhere in the national rankings."

Missouri enters as the league's only ranked team. The unranked Jayhawks could improve their seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament by winning two or three games at Kemper this weekend.

"I'm sure it means more," Williams said. "We could gain from it as far as improving our seed for the NCAA Tournament. Honest ... I can't tell you three sites of the NCAA Tournament.

"With this team, we have tried to not look too far down the road, to focus every day trying to improve. I told the team Monday and at least twice this year, `You should never stumble on something behind you.'

"The season is behind us. The mistakes are behind us now. Learn from them but focus on trying to get better every day."

Williams thinks he knows the victory formula for this weekend.

"Go back to the games we've really been successful. We've been into it emotionally and in a frenzy on the defensive end, active, getting after it," Williams said. "And we've had good balance scoring. When we are not in a frenzy and not into it mentally, emotionally, we are not successful."

Senior Ryan Robertson likes the team's makeup entering the postseason.

"Yes it was a tough loss (Sunday at Iowa State)," Robertson said. "But I think we are hungry and are all looking forward to having a really good weekend in Kansas City.

"I really think if we are able to pull out a couple wins it'd be such a fun weekend. To beat Nebraska or Texas Tech, teams that beat us. Then hypothetically Missouri, a team that beat us here. And then hypothetically play Texas (in finals) -- what a fun weekend it could be. When we are challenged, we play our best. I think we'll play well this weekend, I really do."

The Jayhawks will practice at Allen Fieldhouse today and head to Kansas City on Friday.

KU coach Williams is not upset with the Big 12 Coaches and AP all-league teams. No Jayhawks made first team.

Eric Chenowith was named second-team by both the coaches and media, while Robertson was third-team AP, but didn't get mentioned by the coaches. Jeff Boschee was freshman of the year by both groups.

"I've said many, many times if you are the best team you get the awards and rewards," Williams said. "We didn't finish first so we were not the best team."

-- Gary Bedore's phone number is 832-7186. His e-mail address is bedore@ljworld.com

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