Lubbock, Texas Though they love competing at home in front of 16,300 adoring fans, Kansas University’s men’s basketball players insist some of the most memorable moments of the season take place in enemy gyms.
“That’s actually the best part,” KU sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe said, “being able to go to another school, go in there, work hard and come out with a win.
“That’s the best feeling, I feel like,” Tharpe added.
The Jayhawks, who opened the 2012-13 Big 12 season by outlasting Iowa State, 97-89 in overtime, on Wednesday in Allen Fieldhouse, today face their first conference road test — at Texas Tech.
Tip for the game between the Jayhawks (13-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) and Red Raiders (8-5, 1-1) is 3 p.m., in United Spirit Arena.
“I think it’s one of the biggest things I’m looking forward to, going on the road,” said KU freshman Ben McLemore, who scored 33 points in his league debut versus Iowa State. “I know what we can do at home. I know we can go out there on the road and play our game.”
McLemore attended Big 12 road games that were within driving distance of Lawrence last season, his red-shirt season.
“I went to Columbia (for KU-Missouri game) and one of the fans was watching, saying how they don’t like Kansas,” McLemore said with a smile. “I went to K-State. It was crazy. Away games are crazy. The crowd definitely will be in the game.”
The Red Raider fans who do attend today’s game — Tech has averaged just 7,353 fans in 12 games in 15,098-seat United Spirit Arena this season where the Raiders are 7-5 — definitely will be keeping an eye on McLemore.
The 6-foot-5 red-shirt freshman has gained even more notoriety the past couple days after banking in an overtime-inducing three-pointer Wednesday as time ran out in regulation.
“I guess they were thinking (it was) like one of the best performances in Kansas history,” McLemore said of fan and media reaction to his shot versus the Cyclones.
“As I said after the game, my teammates were getting me the ball. I’d like to thank them a lot for getting me going, especially Elijah (Johnson) the first half. I was telling him to try to get me the ball. That’s what he did. He helped me a lot and coach helps me a lot, telling me to get open one pass away and try to create things offensively. I’d like to keep performing like this each and every day,” McLemore added.
KU coach Bill Self said he may run more plays for McLemore in an attempt to get him even more involved in the offense.
“One thing he can always do is put his head down and drive it,” Self said Friday. “He did that late game. A lot of it is on Ben. I think our guys for the most part do a good job of looking for him. He has to do a better job of learning to move without the ball. In Ben’s case, if he’s got daylight, he needs to look to score.”
McLemore and his teammates today face a Red Raider team that opened league play with a 62-53 victory at TCU. On Tuesday, Tech was hammered at home by Baylor, 82-48, before just 6,385 fans.
“I don’t think it ever affects us too much,” KU senior forward Kevin Young said of rare occasions like today when the visiting gym may not be at fever pitch. “We are more focused on the game and what happens in between the lines. Going on the road ... we will miss our crowd a lot. They give us energy and help us a lot,” Young added.
One of the keys to KU’s winning eight straight Big 12 Conference titles has been performance on the road.
KU, in fact, entered the 2012-13 season with a 54-19 league road record during the Self-era, which is 16 games better than the Jayhawks’ closest competitor, Texas (38-35). Over the last nine seasons, Kansas State is 31-42 on the road, Oklahoma 24-49, Oklahoma State 20-53, Baylor 18-55 and both Texas Tech and Iowa State 14-59. This is first year in the league for West Virginia and TCU.
“It takes focusing in on scouting report and guarding and running our offense,” Young said of the key to road victories.
KU has had some problems in Lubbock, compiling a 2-3 record in Self’s first nine seasons at KU. The Red Raiders this year are led by sixth man Jaye Crockett, a 6-7 junior who averages 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. Only other double-digit scorer is Josh Gray, a 6-1 freshman, who averages 10.0 points with 36 total assists against 44 turnovers. Dejan Kravic, a 6-11 junior, averages 9.5 points and 4.7 boards.
Crockett has led Tech in scoring in both league games with 13 in each contest.
Interim coach Chris Walker took over for embattled coach Billy Gillispie, who stepped down during the preseason.
“I think they are playing faster. Their talent level has improved a tremendous amount,” Self said. “They are fast on the perimeter. Their team is capable from a talent standpoint of giving anybody problems.”
“Guys have done a great job lending me their ears, focusing on a new style and playing very, very hard,” interim coach Walker said. He prefers a pressing style: “We are moving at hyper speed. It’s been a challenge and refreshing to see how hard guys are willing to work and learn.”
Dance reax: McLemore on Friday commented on an animated GIF of his dance making the rounds on the Internet. McLemore led a dance in KU’s locker room after a 74-66 victory over Ohio State on Dec. 22 in Columbus.
“I was just looking at that today,” McLemore said of the looping image taken from the team’s “Pay Heed” video series on YouTube. “People are talking about the dance. It’s funny. We were just having fun. It was a big win in Columbus (Ohio). We were celebrating.”
Does the dance have a name?
“I don’t know what to call it. I was with the media (after game). My teammates were waiting for me to celebrate. I got there; we were dancing, having fun, celebrating.”
He’s No. 1: McLemore has moved up to No. 1 in NBAdraft.net’s 2013 mock draft. Draftexpress.com has McLemore projected to go No. 7 in the draft.