Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Jayhawks snare share of Big 12 title, leave symbolic strands

February 19, 2002


Kansas did cut the net on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Actually, to be more specific, the Jayhawk players and coaches sliced all but two strands of the north end zone net after clubbing Iowa State, 102-66, and gaining at least a share of the Big 12 Conference title with three games to play.

"The reason part of the net is still up is that we've just (clinched) part of the conference championship," KU coach Roy Williams explained after the newly ordained No. 1-ranked Jayhawks improved to 13-0 in the league with three games to play.

One KU win or one Oklahoma loss would give KU the undisputed title, the Jayhawks' first in four seasons.

"We are trying to not show any disrespect to Nebraska, Kansas State, Missouri  three teams left to play," Williams added. "Hopefully they'll see it that way and not feel we're counting our chickens or our eggs before they're hatched."

The net-cutting came after a wild display of dancing near the KU bench, with even Williams joining in a mosh-pit-like celebration.

In the backdrop of the net-cutting was a "We are the champions" banner held by a group of happy KU students as the KU band played Queen's tune of the same name.

Jayhawk players wore conference championship T-shirts and hats during the wild celebration.

"It's been a pretty good day," KU junior Nick Collison said of a day which started with the Jayhawks (24-2, 13-0) ascending to No. 1 in the AP poll.

The title was the first for Collison  and for all the Jayhawk players. Williams has been part of eight such crowns in 14 years.

"We've not won a title since I've been here. To get over the hump is huge," Collison said after scoring 16 points and grabbing seven boards.

Drew Gooden led the way with 26 points, while a third big man, Wayne Simien, added 15.

"Before I got here Kansas was winning all these championships, every single year," Collison said. "All of a sudden we get here and can't win one. So it was big for all of us.

"We left a couple strands of net up there because we have more to do."

The Jayhawks specifically mentioned winning the Big 12 tournament title, NCAA regional title and Final Four title.

Williams asked facilities director Darren Cook to keep the net remnants safe, with KU perhaps finishing the snipping on Senior Day  or just keeping it for posterity or a reminder of the work left to do.

"I've struggled since Saturday's game to figure out what to do," Williams said. "I don't want to disrespect anybody. Our local golf pro (Randy Towner) gave me the idea of leaving part of the net up there. Randy said, 'You could leave part of it up there  getting a share.'"

Williams also discussed the matter with his coaching staff and all the starters.

"C.B. (McGrath) and Jerod (Haase, ex-players now on staff) had the greatest influence today," Williams said. "They said we should cut it down. C.B. said, 'If this was the last game of the regular season and we won to get a share of the conference championship would we cut it down?' I said yes.

"I've been big all season on getting the guys to enjoy the journey and not just be thinking of the outcome at the end. I want them to enjoy what goes on in college basketball and Drew Gooden  it's the first time he had to cut down the nets at any level. I thought it was important to let him do that."

Gooden, Collison and Simien combined to hit their first 12 shots as the Jayhawks pulled away early.

Strong defense on ISU's Jake Sullivan  who finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting  also made possible the blowout victory.

"Our big guys the first half missed two or three shots combined," Williams said.

In fact, Gooden had 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, Collison 10 on 5-of-6 shooting and Simien six on 3-of-4 shooting as KU led, 49-25, at halftime.

"Our defense was really good the first half," Williams said. "We were ready to play, the reason being we have so much respect for Iowa State. I told Larry (Eustachy, ISU coach) that and it's not a lie. The respect we have for them made us be ready on the defensive end of the floor."

KU's hard work paid as each player had a souvenir  a strand of net for safekeeping.

"I gave mine to my parents," Simien said. "It's big, very important to me."

"It's a great feeling," noted senior Jeff Carey, who had two boards in seven minutes. "We've accomplished so much, at the same time there's a lot left to accomplish so we left some net up there. In some ways I'd liked to cut the nets on Senior Night, but at the same time, that was fun."

"To win a championship is really important," freshman Aaron Miles said after dishing nine assists and scoring five points. "It's one of our goals, but we have a lot of goals left. We have great leadership on this team and it showed again tonight."

Indeed, senior Jeff Boschee contributed nine points off three threes. Even walk-on seniors Chris Zerbe and Todd Kappelmann had three apiece.

"There's nothing like this feeling," freshman Keith Langford said after scoring eight points with three assists. "But like coach Williams said, 'Don't get too fat and happy. We've still got business the next three games in the league.' We've still got a lot of basketball to play the rest of the season."

As far as specifics, the Jayhawks, who finished at 62.5 percent shooting to ISU's 42.6 percent, hit 23 of 35 first-half shots for 65.7 percent. Iowa State, which was bothered by KU's furious man-to-man defense, was led by Sullivan's eight points on just 3-of-8 shooting.

KU played so well the first half that fiery Eustachy called a time out at one point only to shrug at his players helplessly.

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