Ongoing injuries cast pall over upcoming KU-OU rematch

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) drives against Kansas State guard Cam Carter (5) during the first half on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 at Bramlage Coliseum. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas men’s basketball team faces the possibility of a third straight game without Kevin McCullar Jr. and fourth in the span of three weeks if the super-senior guard isn’t able to participate in practice over the next few days, KU coach Bill Self said on his “Hawk Talk” radio show Tuesday night.

“So hopefully he’ll be able to practice,” Self said, “because my thinking is if you’re not able to practice, why go out there in the game not even knowing how hard you could push it and that kind of stuff, and set yourself up, maybe, for a setback.”

The Jayhawks play at Oklahoma Saturday at 3 p.m. McCullar has been hampered by a bone bruise to his knee and was in street clothes for both KU’s narrow win against Baylor on Saturday and its blowout loss at his former team Texas Tech on Monday. He still leads the Big 12 Conference in scoring with 19.5 points per game, although he has been inefficient of late, making a third of his shots or less in three of his last four appearances, including the last time he took the floor in a loss to Kansas State on Feb. 5.

His absence has been particularly impactful because it has coincided with a bout of illness and injury among a KU team that at full strength only has nine scholarship players.

Reserve freshman guard Jamari McDowell missed the last two games due to the flu. However, Self said on “Hawk Talk” that he will be back, which should add some heft to a guard rotation that in Lubbock was beginning to give minutes to walk-ons Wilder Evers and Michael Jankovich.

Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. also hurt his ankle in the final minutes on Saturday, but returned soon after, made the most important shot of the game and then played 35-plus minutes on Monday.

He was an ineffective 2-for-8 from the floor at Tech and only had three assists to three turnovers, but his healthier teammates didn’t do much better, as KJ Adams and Hunter Dickinson shot a combined 3-for-22, mostly on close-range shots.

Nick Timberlake made his second straight start in place of McCullar and matched his season high with 13 points (tied with freshman Johnny Furphy for the team lead that night), although Self said they shouldn’t be “giddy” about Timberlake and Furphy making shots because however poorly a team plays, “every team has a leading scorer.”

Timberlake could be in line to start again if McCullar can’t go Saturday. It’s not clear yet exactly how many chances McCullar will have in total to practice because Self said Monday he didn’t know if he planned to give the whole team Tuesday and Wednesday off as he had the previous week.

Trouble in Norman, too

The Jayhawks would tell you — and indeed Dickinson has — that every team deals with injuries this time of year. Indeed, Oklahoma finds itself facing similar issues ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

The Sooners were without a key contributor in forward John Hugley IV (8.4 points, 3.8 rebounds per game) in their 79-62 loss to Baylor Tuesday night due to a knee issue.

That loss got compounded when guard Rivaldo Soares, an Oregon transfer who averaged 12 points in his five prior games and had already scored 17 Tuesday, departed the game due to an ankle injury. OU coach Porter Moser said after the game that Soares wasn’t putting any weight on his leg.

photo by: AP Photo/LM Otero

Oklahoma guard Rivaldo Soares (5) is helped off the court during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Waco, Texas.

No one else besides Soares scored double-digit points for OU in the loss to Baylor.

KU and OU previously met at Allen Fieldhouse, a game in which Johnny Furphy entered the starting lineup for the first time in Big 12 play and the Jayhawks went on 11-2 and 9-0 runs to close out the Sooners in the second half.

It was McCullar who provided that second-half spark, scoring 15 of his 21 points after the break, including 8-for-9 free-throw shooting.


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