Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self didn’t take the bait Saturday when asked by a media member if, in coming days, he’d show his players tape of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart performing a backflip during a celebration after the Cowboys’ 85-80 victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 2 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Was there a backflip? That’s already been shown many times (on TV),” Self, KU’s coach, said with a smile after Saturday’s 73-47 home win over Texas.
“I’ll be honest: I thought that was as athletic as Ben’s dunk,” Self added of Ben McLemore’s 360-degree spin slam versus Texas.
While not wanting to make Wednesday’s 8 p.m. rematch against OSU at Gallagher-Iba Arena a grudge match against any one player, Self also realizes his team needs no extra motivation. Wednesday’s game is for a share of first place.
KU, the No. 9-rated team in the country in the current AP poll, enters 9-3 in Big 12 play and 21-4 overall. No. 14-rated OSU is 9-3, 19-5.
“The stakes are probably as high as they have been since my first or second year here when coach (Eddie) Sutton was (OSU) coach,” Self said. “We went there and (lost 80-60) and finished second my first year. They won the league and had a terrific team and went to the Final Four.
“The next year we ended up sharing it with Oklahoma. We had to beat Oklahoma State in our building in an unbelievable game (an 81-79 win) when they had all those players returning. We’ve been down there when it (atmosphere) has been good. I’d anticipate a sellout and anticipate Gallagher rocking. When it is rocking, it’s as good as about any place. We’ll have to bring great focus, and, beyond focusing as a team, we’ll have to execute as well. I’m sure it will be as good as it’s been in a long time and should be. They are playing for the highest of stakes, and this is a huge game with conference implications.”
Self plays down the fact KU is making a trip to his alma mater, where he has a 2-3 record as KU coach.
“It means something to me but doesn’t mean anything to anybody else,” Self said. “I never use that with my team as motivation. That would be something I’d have done nine or 10 years ago. It’s a big game for one reason, because of the league race. Another reason from our players’ standpoint is they already beat us once, (this is) the rematch. It’s much easier to have a rematch at home than on the road. We’ve lost at home before and had to go win at K-State (to split with Wildcats). I think it’s good our guys get challenged like that. We don’t have a team that plays great all the time, but we have a team when we do play like we are capable, we can play great. It will take a great effort to go to Stillwater and win.”
OSU coach Travis Ford, whose Cowboys have won seven straight games, realizes it is tough to sweep a team of KU’s caliber.
“I think any time you play somebody for the second time, it’s always a great challenge when you won the first game, whoever it may be,” Ford said. “They have some things they may want to change and do differently. Whether you play Kansas first, second, third, fourth time, it’s always difficult. Kansas is always good. No matter what happens in the past, it’s always a great challenge to play against Kansas, as well as so many teams in this league.”
Kansas State grabbed a half-game lead over KU and OSU on Monday night by beating West Virginia. The Wildcats are 10-3.
Withey honored: KU center Jeff Withey on Monday was named co-Big 12 player of the week with Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez. Withey averaged 16.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game as the Jayhawks recorded victories over KSU and Texas. He shot 47.6 percent from the field and made 80 percent of his free throws while blocking seven shots and recording six steals. Withey has been player of the week two times this season.
Mom impressed: Julius Randle, a 6-foot-9 senior forward from Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, completed his visit to KU on Monday. His mom, Carolyn, told USA Today: “Kansas fans were the best. They’re the loudest and the best.” Randle is also considering Texas, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina State and Oklahoma.