Jayhawks look to advance, of course, but with a bit more authority next time
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The only thing Bill Self seemed pleased about from a first-round NCAA Tournament win by Kansas was, well, the fact that his top-seeded Jayhawks had won.
He wasn’t a whole lot more impressed with their second-round win.
But in a tournament gone goofy with upsets, where two No. 1 seeds are already out, simply surviving should be reason for applause. And the fact that Self thinks the best is yet to come should give the Jayhawks confidence as they head to the Midwest Region semifinals.
“Well, I think in the NCAA Tournament you don’t worry as much if you played well or if you played poor,” Self said. “You worry more about, ‘Did we advance?’ And I think that’s all we did, is we advanced.”
Kansas will play red-hot Clemson on Friday night in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I don’t think we were good against Penn, except for short stretches, and I don’t think we were very good (against Seton Hall), except for short stretches,” Self said. “But we put ourselves in position where hopefully we’ll play much better next week and play our best ball. Certainly, we’re going to have to be better, obviously, on Friday.”
It will help the Jayhawks’ cause if Udoka Azubuike is closer to 100 percent against the Tigers.
The 7-foot sophomore played 22 minutes against Seton Hall, and the Jayhawks needed all of them against Pirates big man Angel Delgado. But while Azubuike was effective after missing most of two weeks with a ligament injury to his left knee, there were still times that he was laboring.
“He’s probably not close to 100 percent, to be honest, but the way his attitude has been, the way he’s been rehabbing, that allowed him to get out there,” Kansas star Devonte’ Graham said. “You can’t duplicate having Doke in the game. He’s a big piece of our offense.”
Now, Azubuike will have another week to get his feet — or rather his knee — under him.
Self said the plan was to rest him Sunday and Monday, practice Tuesday through Thursday, and be ready to go against a fifth-seeded Clemson team that ran roughshod over No. 4 seed Auburn.
“Coach is trying to limit my time sometimes, and I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m good. I’m good to go,'” Azubuike said with a smile. “I’m feeling good right now. I feel good to be back with the team. And like, as soon as I stepped on the court, I felt good and I was just good to go.”
Still, the Jayhawks (29-7) have had only one person step up offensively each of their first two NCAA Tournament games, and that’s cause for concern. When they’ve struggled this season, such as losses to Washington and Arizona State, nobody in their talented backcourt came through in the clutch.
Against Penn, it was Graham who shouldered the load. He scored 29 points, dished out six assists with six rebounds, and played all but one minute in a game tight until the second half.
Against Seton Hall, the Big 12 player of the year was largely silenced, perhaps in part by a shot to the head he took from his own teammate. But sophomore Malik Newman took over, the Big 12 Tournament’s most valuable player hitting four 3-pointers and pouring in 28 points in an 83-79 victory.
“With the four guards and with the big man, I think anybody — any one of our starting five — always have a chance to go out and get 20-plus,” Newman said. “Lot of weapons we have to our arsenal.”
They’ll likely need more than one of them Friday night.
Clemson closed the first half against Auburn with a 25-4 run, was lights-out on offense and brutal on defense, and was never threatened the rest of the way in an 84-53 romp that sent coach Brad Brownell’s program to its first Sweet 16 in 21 years.
“That was probably as impressive of a performance as anyone has had in the tournament so far and there have been some great performances,” Self said. “They dominated Auburn in every area — perimeter play, speed, rebounding and in the paint. Watching them was like watching a clinic.
“They’ve played against some unbelievable teams all year long,” he added. “This will be a difficult game. A game that will require us to play a lot better than we did this past weekend.”