TULSA, Okla. — Josh Jackson insisted a season’s worth of distractions wouldn’t take away from his focus in his first, and likely last, NCAA Tournament.
The standout Kansas freshman proved true to his word in an opening-round 100-62 victory over UC Davis on Friday night, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting in his return from a one-game suspension for an accumulation of embarrassing incidents.
Jackson scored the first field goal for the Jayhawks (29-5) and 11 of their first 31 points after missing last week’s Big 12 tournament. His hot start helped Kansas recover from missing its first four shots, and it helped the Jayhawks win their opening game of the tournament for an 11th straight year.
“I’ve been really excited to play for a while now, been itching to play for about a week and a half, so just coming out there today felt really good to get back out there with the guys,” Jackson said. “When I step out there on that court, I’m really not thinking about anything else but basketball, something I’ve been doing for most of my life.”
The win ensures top seeds will remain perfect since the tournament expanded, with the schools now 132-0 against No. 16 seeds.
It also puts an end to a dream run for the Aggies (23-13), who were in their first NCAA Tournament and had advanced to face Kansas after winning a First Four game against North Carolina Central.
Chima Moneke scored 20 points to lead UC Davis, while Brynton Lemar added 17 and Siler Schneider 10 in the loss. However, only two days removed from their victory in Dayton, the Aggies were unable to slow a Kansas team making its 28th straight NCAA Tournament appearance — the longest active streak in the nation.
“We just had as emotional a locker room as I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been a part of a lot of teams,” UC Davis coach Jim Les said. “They accomplished a lot of wonderful feats, and I don’t want this game to take away from (that). There’s a lot to be grateful for.”
While Jackson’s return boosted the Jayhawks, senior Frank Mason III proved as reliable as ever while scoring 22 points and adding eight assists.
All five starters finished in double figures for Kansas, with Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham adding 16 points each and Landen Lucas 13 points and 11 rebounds. The Jayhawks outrebounded UC Davis 45-27 and shot 56.3 percent (36 of 64) in the win.
The last time Kansas lost an opening-round game of the NCAA Tournament was as a No. 4 seed in 2006 to a Bradley team led by Les.
Despite Les’ experience and past success as a lower seed against the Jayhawks, the weary Aggies began to fade midway through the first half against a rested Kansas team.
The Jayhawks hadn’t played in eight days since losing to TCU in the Big 12 tourney quarterfinals, and they closed the half on a 29-7 run to lead 50-28.
“We were a little nervous early, anxious early, and they certainly made it very difficult to score early on,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And then, I thought from about the 12-minute mark of the first half, the lid came off the basket and I thought we executed very well.”
UC Davis: The Aggies had won seven of eight games, including the Big West tournament, to reach Friday’s game. Les and senior Darius Graham provided one of the more emotional moments of the game, however, when the two embraced for nearly a minute after Graham exited the game with 1:45 remaining.
Kansas: Whether Jackson’s suspension played a role or not in the Jayhawks’ early exit from the Big 12 tourney, Kansas appeared back in top form with its star freshman’s return. The 6-foot-8 guard started and played 23 minutes, putting together a highlight-reel performance that included several impressive finishes at the rim while adding seven rebounds.
Mason has scored 20 or more points in a game 20 times this season, including in each of his last four games and nine of his last 11. He was 8 of 14 from the field on Friday and hit three 3-pointers while also grabbing five rebounds.
The Jayhawks advance to face the Michigan State-Miami winner Sunday.