KU-Arkansas Notebook: Harris plays through ankle sprain, Self still absent
Des Moines, Iowa — Kansas point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. gutted out all 20 minutes in the second half on a bad right ankle to try to lead the Jayhawks to second-round NCAA Tournament win over Arkansas but came up just short, falling 72-71 to end the season.
Harris, who has had ankle and foot injuries throughout the season was injured late in the first half when he landed on the legs of a photographer out of bounds after a stop by the KU defense.
Wells Fargo Arena went silent while Harris was on the ground and you could hear him yell in frustration more than pain.
After getting to his feet, he limped straight back to the locker room, where he was checked out and treated during the halftime break.
The Jayhawks said after the game they knew quickly that their point guard was going to be with him for the second half as they went back out with an eight-point lead.
“Juan is one of the best kids I’ve ever been around and he cares so much,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said after the loss. “There was no way Juan wasn’t going to play in the second half. And he did a great job out there.”
KU freshman Gradey Dick added that they saw enough from Harris during the halftime session to feel good about his status for the second half.
“We came in at halftime and he was running up and down in here and it was just kind of about how he felt when we went out for warm-ups,” Dick said.
The official word was that Harris had a sprained ankle and was going to try to go. He went, playing all 20 minutes and scoring eight points, many at crucial moments in KU close loss.
Kansas freshman Gradey Dick, a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft throughout the season, was asked after Saturday’s loss if he had made a decision about his future at Kansas.
“That’s really the last thing I’m thinking about right now and I have no opinion on that,” Dick said. “I’m really just thinking about how this stings so much and what this group of guys meant to me.”
Senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., who went through senior night a few weeks ago but does still have a year of college eligibility remaining also was asked if he would consider returning for another season of college basketball.
“I’m really just taking this all in right now,” McCullar said.
When senior night unfolded the expectation by those close to the program was that McCullar had played his last home game for the Jayhawks.
He, Dick and other underclassmen on the KU roster likely will have decisions to make about their futures in the weeks ahead, starting to address them a little earlier than they would’ve liked to.
Self out for finale
The top-seeded Kansas men’s basketball team was without head coach Bill Self for a fifth consecutive game against Arkansas.
KU officially ruled Self out for the contest just after 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. Assistant coach Norm Roberts continued to serve as the team’s acting head coach in Self’s absence.
“It’s different for sure,” McCullar said about not having Self on game night. “You look over there and coach Self isn’t there. But that’s part of it. He had us prepared for the game and coach Norm did a great job, as well. He stepped in and we listened to him and we played our butts off for coach Self and I know he’s proud of us, too.”
As for whether the Jayhawks had adopted a “win-one-for-coach” mindset, McCullar said that was definitely part of their rallying cry this week in Des Moines.
“We talked about it,” he said. “We wanted to try to make it to next weekend so coach could be back out there. I know he wanted to be out there with us for these games and it hurt him super bad not to be able to be out there with us.”
Self, who was released from the hospital last Sunday after a five-day stay following a stent procedure that kept him away from last week’s Big 12 tournament, made the trip to Des Moines with his family and traveled separately from the rest of the team.
In a pregame interview with Greg Gurley for ESPN+, Self said he was feeling “tons better” and was hopeful he could join the Jayhawks in Las Vegas next week.
“I’ve got my energy back to an extent,” the KU coach said. “We met as a group, with doctors and a lot of consultations and everything. We think it’s best we rejoin the team full speed next week. … I’m sleeping better, doing things that they said (were) important to be on the mend quickly.”
As was the case Thursday, Self watched Saturday’s game from the team hotel.
Self was with the team in meetings and at practice this week in Des Moines, helping create the game plan and go over the Jayhawks’ scouting report. But his role at practices has been limited to a lot of sitting and instructing, which he told Hanni he was “getting better at.”
The Jayhawks were 7-2 in nine games without Self this season — four for a university-imposed suspension to open the season, three more at the Big 12 tournament last week and two NCAA Tournament games.
The official release on Self’s status for Saturday’s game indicated that the Hall of Famer now in his 20th season in charge of the KU program continues to be day to day as he recovers.
“The fact that he’s recovering is all that matters in this,” Dick said after the loss. “It’s bigger than basketball.”
Tourney experience beyond the bench
Saturday’s game featured some pretty prominent players from KU’s past sitting in the crowd watching and cheering on the current Jayhawks.
Former KU greats Cole Aldrich, Tyrel Reed, Travis Releford and Wayne Simien Jr. all made the trip to Des Moines for Saturday’s game.
Simien, who serves as an Associate AD of Engagement and Outreach for Kansas Athletics, is around the team often.
Reed, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, who has worked with the team in various capacities throughout the past few seasons, is on the road with the Jayhawks during the tournament for the first time. He and Aldrich were a part of the Jayhawks’ 2008 national title team, and Releford was a starter on the national runner-up squad in 2012.
This and that…
Saturday’s loss dropped Kansas to 6-3 in neutral-site games this season and made KU 46-14 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. KU is also 8-2 all-time versus a No. 8 seed… The Jayhawks now lead the all-time series with Arkansas, 8-6. The Razorbacks have been a thorn in the Jayhawks’ side in the past several months, though, first topping KU in triple overtime at the Liberty Bowl and now ending KU’s men’s basketball season on Saturday night… Jalen Wilson finished his season with 723 points, scoring 20 or more in seven straight games to end the season… Self is now 584-132 all-time at Kansas and 791-237 in his career. That includes a 56-22 mark in NCAA Tournament games, 47-17 in his 20 seasons at Kansas… KU ends the season with an all-time record of 2,385-885, first on college basketball’s all-time wins list. Kentucky, which sits in second place on the list, will play Kansas State in a second-round NCAA Tournament game on Sunday.