TULSA, OKLA. Tulsa couldn't have gotten a team like Kansas University to play at the Donald W. Reynolds Center three or four years ago.
Big time programs had nothing to gain then by beating the small-conference Golden Hurricane and a lot to lose if they lost, which was very possible on the road against those tough Tulsa teams.
But a string of winning seasons, including a trip to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in 2000, earned No. 17 Tulsa enough respect that Big 12 and Big 10 conference opponents started to notice.
"The more and more you're successful ... then you move up in the elite program's eyes as, 'They're a good game no matter what,"' Tulsa coach John Phillips said Monday.
"The top three or four conferences in America don't need to play anybody tough, because their whole conference is tough," Phillips said. "From their standpoint I understand why they don't want to play a Tulsa, a Creighton or a Southern Illinois, especially on a neutral court or in an away game."
Phillips' Tulsa squad meets No. 20 Kansas on Wednesday night at the Reynolds Center in the last of a three-game series Jayhawks coach Roy Williams agreed to four years ago.
Kansas has won the previous two games, 92-69 at Kansas in 2000 and 93-85 in Kansas City, Mo., last year.
"It's a quality opponent that doesn't come to the University of Tulsa very often, so it is a big thing. It's a major thing for our program," Phillips said.
Tulsa's schedule is a lot stiffer this year, with games at Arkansas and Gonzaga and at home against Iowa on the non-conference list along with Kansas.
Phillips said it's getting easier for his team to attract top-notch foes. He has a four-year deal with Arkansas, and Tulsa and Oklahoma are talking about playing each other again, he said. The Sooners and the Golden Hurricane last played in 1996, Tulsa winning 78-75.
Phillips said he's grateful to Williams and the other coaches for agreeing to play Tulsa. Having a tougher schedule improves a team's power ratings that are used in tournament selection.
"I think a lot of times, coaches like him (Williams) will schedule programs ... he knows putting his team into tough situations prepares them for what he ultimately wants," Phillips said. "And that's winning a national championship."