Jayhawks, McCullar in particular get much-needed break

photo by: AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr., front right, goes against Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Norman, Okla.

Only twice since beginning its season in early November has the Kansas men’s basketball team gone from one Saturday to the next without playing a game: once for finals week, once for its Christmas break.

The Jayhawks have finally gotten to do so again this week. After playing 13 Big 12 Conference games in a six-week span — including three Saturday/Monday turnarounds, all of which yielded at least one loss — KU has a chance to recuperate, even taking this Sunday and Wednesday off altogether.

And the open date is coming at a good time; as point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. said straightforwardly, it will be “very big,” and as head coach Bill Self put it in just about as many words, “We need time off.”

“To me, it looked like it was two tired teams playing the majority of the game,” Self said Saturday, after KU beat Oklahoma 67-57 in an erratic, ugly game at the Lloyd Noble Center.

By Monday night’s “Hawk Talk” radio show, after one day off and one day of practice, his outlook had already improved: “We were a tired team,” he said, emphasizing the “were” and adding drily, “We got our B12 shots this week, we’re ready to go.”

Center Hunter Dickinson, for his part, said after the OU game that he felt the best he had in two months with “all the injuries” he was battling.

“I’m starting to feel good at the right time, I’d say,” he added.

The only injury Dickinson had publicly discussed previously was a knee bruise he suffered in the very first game of conference play on Jan. 6 that affected him at UCF the following week. As he said at the time, “It’s just something you got to play through. Everybody’s dealing with some type of injury nowadays.”

His words were prescient; the Jayhawks’ already-thin roster has taken a beating recently. Kevin McCullar Jr. (knee bruise) and Jamari McDowell (flu) each returned Saturday after missing two games each. Even freshman Johnny Furphy sat out a string of practices in the lead-up to that Baylor game on Feb. 10, as Self noted in his pregame ESPN+ interview that day.

Self said KU wouldn’t have won the Oklahoma game without the return of McCullar, even though he wasn’t at full strength as he shot 4-for-14 from the field.

“He’s going to be all right, though,” said Harris, who himself battled an ankle injury after the Baylor game on Feb. 10. “This whole week, he’s probably going to get treatment, and he should be back 100% Saturday’s game.”

On “Hawk Talk,” though, Self said that McCullar “tweaked” his knee injury again in the OU game and hadn’t been able to practice since returning from Norman.

“I think it’s going to be something that is going to — until he has a substantial amount of time to rehab and do some things to strengthen some muscles around it, which doesn’t happen overnight — yeah, this is going to be something he deals with probably for the rest of the year,” Self said.

Beginning with the game against Cincinnati on Jan. 22, after which Self first mentioned that McCullar was dealing with a bruised knee, the graduate senior guard has missed three of a possible eight games and shot 27-for-75 (36%) from the field. The rest of the year he had shot 114-for-224 (51%). He has also gone 9-for-29 (31%) from 3-point range as opposed to 26-for-68 (38%) previously.

But KU has also been a “tired team” not just because of its injuries but because of how much it plays its starters. McCullar, for example, has played 35 minutes or more in each game he’s taken part in beginning with Cincinnati.

The Jayhawks have gotten some of the fewest overall minutes, for one, as well as most meager scoring production (344th of 351 teams), out of their bench of any team in the country. Even with the team banged up, the month of February has been no different. KU’s bench has scored a combined 21 points in the last five games.

The OU game was a bit more rotation-heavy in the first half, but Self tightened things up after the break by playing his starters for more than 94 of a possible 100 minutes — and that was with McCullar in foul trouble.

For the first time in a long time, the starters will not be called upon to replicate that performance somewhere between 48 and 72 hours afterward.

Instead, they’ll take the floor next for a home game against Texas on Saturday at 5 p.m., before BYU comes to town, with road games at Baylor and Houston and a Sunflower Showdown rematch on the horizon.

“Biggest thing is, we got to focus on getting rested and then holding serve at home,” Self said. “And then I got a feeling when we go on the road the last two games that we’ll be a turned-up team, especially with who we’re playing.”

photo by: AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) drives the ball against Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan, center, who is blocked by Kansas forward Parker Braun (23), during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Norman, Okla.

photo by: AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) goes against Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan (12) and forward Sam Godwin (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Norman, Okla.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.