KU hoops notebook: Ejiofor shines, Vitale honor and a half-full student section
It’s been a revolving door of sorts at the 5 position for the 8th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team so far this season.
But on Saturday, in an 84-62 win over No. 14 Indiana, KU freshman Zuby Ejiofor made his case for being a much bigger part of the plan moving forward.
“Zub was great,” KU coach Bill Self said after Saturday’s win. “He played big and set good screens and played to his athletic ability. I thought he played terrific.”
Sophomore forward KJ Adams made his 11th start of the season at the 5 for 10-1 Kansas, and he, too, had a strong showing. Adams scored KU’s first seven points and played with intensity and an attacking mindset all afternoon.
Self said the plan heading into Saturday was to go to Ejiofor first when Adams needed a breather and then use sophomore forward Zach Clemence at the 5 if the Ejiofor experiment wasn’t working out. It did. And Clemence did not check in until there was 1:53 remaining in the game.
Not only did the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Ejiofor set career-highs with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in 12:14 of action, he also made a significant impact on the game on both ends of the floor.
He played big on defense, using his big frame to make things hard for the Hoosiers. And he was a highlight machine on offense, catching three lobs for loud dunks and adding a fourth on a roll to the rim in the second half.
“Coach preaches to our young bigs every day, if they want to play all you’ve got to do is set screens, block shots and catch lobs and rebound,” said KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. after the win. “And he did that today. He’s one of our best jumpers on the team and he’s very athletic. If he keeps being athletic, he’s going to play a lot for us.”
Self said the idea of facing a player of the caliber of Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis may have motivated Ejiofor, who had a solid week of practice.
“Yeah, I think getting a chance to guard a first-team All-American definitely inspires you to be turned up,” Self said. “Zuby hasn’t had a chance, but we saw today what he’s capable of.”
An odd home crowd
Saturday’s game featured more fans of the opposing team than most KU home games. And the Hoosiers fans weren’t shy about wearing their colors or cheer for their team.
While the extra red was to be expected, Self said he and his players were surprised by the empty northwest corner that is usually packed with students.
“Our players said coming (into) the locker room, ‘Coach, there’s nobody out there,'” recalled Self of his team’s reaction during pregame warm-ups. “I was like, ‘Come on.’ They said, ‘No, nobody’s out there.’ The way you can tell if our building is juiced is if the corners are full. That’s how you tell. That’s what I always ask.”
Self said ticket office representatives told him they expected 2,500 students to attend Saturday’s game based on how many students picked up their tickets. But only 1,300 came, which is why the corner above the KU tunnel to the locker room was visibly bare.
Asked if he was disappointed by the empty seats, Self said, “No, our students have been unbelievable. Today, the ones that showed up were unbelievable. We had a good student crowd, but we didn’t have a good student turnout at all.”
During the under-12 media timeout in the first half, the KU video board featured a short tribute to Dick Vitale’s fight against cancer.
It included clips from the game in 2003, when Vitale gave Nick Collison a standing ovation for his 24-point, 23-rebound effort, as well as a message from Collison, who urged the Allen Fieldhouse crowd to stand for Vitale, 83, this time around.
The theme of the tribute was simple: “You stood for us, so we stand with you,” KU wrote on its men’s basketball Twitter account. Vitale, who has battled two forms of cancer in the past couple of years — melanoma and Lymphoma — revealed in August that he is cancer free.
After the standing ovation and roar from the crowd, Vitale himself stood up and waved to the crowd before being caught on camera wiping tears from his eyes.
“It was nice,” Self said after the game. “He’s meant a lot to our game and has done an unbelievable job promoting our sport for 40-plus years.”
Liberty Bowl rally
At halftime of Saturday’s game, Kansas football coach Lance Leipold, along with 11 KU players, took the court for a short presentation from Liberty Bowl director Steve Ehrhart.
Ehrhart and other Liberty Bowl reps were in town for Saturday’s game, with the trophy, to promote the Dec. 28 game between Kansas and Arkansas in Memphis.
“What great energy and what great fans,” Ehrhart told the crowd. “We want you all to come down and take over Beale Street. On Dec. 28 we want to see your team ringing the bell.”
Leipold also spoke to the crowd about how proud he was of the team, his staff and the students and KU fans for creating a true homefield advantage at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium this season.
“We’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “And we’ve still got a lot of work today. I want to thank you again. I want to wish everyone happy holidays and I can’t wait to see you in Memphis.”
This and that…
Saturday’s win pulled Kansas within one win of Indiana in the all-time series. IU now leads 8-7 overall and is 2-2 in games played at Allen Fieldhouse… KU has won 12 consecutive games at home and has won four in a row since their lone loss to Tennessee by scoring 80 or more in each game… Jalen Wilson finished Saturday’s game with eight rebounds, giving him 607 rebounds for his career, which ranks tied for 28th on KU’s all-time list, with Richard Scott and Pierre Russell… Indiana big man Trayce Jackson-Davis’ nine blocks were the most ever by a single player in a game against Kansas.