LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – It was hard to tell whether the question from the side of the room was intended as a joke, and even Kansas coach Bill Self had to smile when it floated toward the podium.
The ninth-ranked Jayhawks had just dusted TCU at Allen Fieldhouse, giving Self win No. 499, and he was asked whether he would prefer to reach the 500 milestone at home or on the road.
“That’s really not a very good question,” Self said with his trademark grin.
That’s because the next one is on the road.
The Jayhawks head to Iowa State on Monday night, and there will be more on the line in Hilton Coliseum than another benchmark in Self’s impressive coaching career. Kansas (23-4, 11-3) is tied for the Big 12 lead with rival Kansas State with only four games left, and any stumble along the way would jeopardize their unprecedented streak of eight consecutive conference championships.
So, yes, Self would prefer that his 500th win came on the road.
“If we could have a road win Monday, that would put us in the best of positions, because we have two of our last three at home,” he said. “The league race won’t be won or lost on Monday, but it will certainly give us a chance.”
Self has downplayed his pursuit of 500 wins for weeks. He swats away such questions about as effectively as 7-foot senior Jeff Withey blocks shots – and deflects any follow-ups about as easily as senior guard Travis Releford knocks away passes on the perimeter.
One of the reasons may be that the milestone isn’t all that elite: There are already more than 50 members of the club, though it encompasses some of the all-time greats. Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight top the list, and it includes Phog Allen and Roy Williams, a pair of coaches who helped to establish and nurture the Kansas basketball tradition.
And Self would rather win championships.
“You go back through the years, he holds so many current records,” Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said. “If you were to ask him, though, he’d probably keep it inside.”
Along with eight straight regular-season Big 12 titles, Self has guided Kansas to five Big 12 tournament titles. He won two regular-season Big Ten championships and the league tournament when he was at Illinois, and two regular-season WAC championships when he was at Tulsa.
He guided the Jayhawks to their fifth national championship in 2008 and nearly won another last season, when Kansas made the title game against Kentucky.
His winning percentage of .755 is among the best in college basketball.
“He’s always going to be humble and take those things in stride,” Zenger said, “but there are only a handful of guys in the country who can come close to comparing numbers with him.”
Self’s players insist that they have a vested interest in seeing their coach win his 500th game.
“We want that for him also,” said Withey, who transferred to Kansas from Arizona. “He’s done a lot for us, so if we can get that win for him, that means a lot to us and him.”
It certainly won’t be easy in Ames, where Iowa State (19-8, 9-5) has won 22 straight home games – including a 72-64 win over then-No. 5 Kansas last season.
That was the Jayhawks’ only loss in the last 15 meetings, but they needed some late heroics to beat the Cyclones 97-89 at home in overtime Jan. 9. Ben McLemore banked in a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to tie the game before Kansas took control in the extra session.
“We know we let one slip away,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said that night. “But at the same time, if you come in here and compete with a team that’s won eight championships in a row, you can compete with anyone.”
Hoiberg’s team will try to do a better job on McLemore, who finished with a season-high 33 points in the first meeting. The freshman hit all six of his 3-point attempts and all seven of his free throws, going 10 of 12 from the field.
Iowa State had six players score in double figures in that game, and it used another balanced effort in an 86-66 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Four players scored at least 13, with Will Clyburn and Chris Babb contributing 17 apiece in the Cyclones’ third straight victory overall.
Clyburn is averaging 20.8 points on 52.5 percent shooting in his last five home games.