In the early stages of the 2007-08 season, Kansas looks strong enough to reach its first Final Four in four years. On Wednesday night, someone who knows all about reaching the Final Four with the Jayhawks will be coaching from the opponent’s bench.
Former Kansas star Rex Walters returns to Phog Allen Fieldhouse as his Florida Atlantic team faces the fourth-ranked Jayhawks.
Walters enjoyed an illustrious two-year career at Kansas from 1991-93, leading the Jayhawks in scoring in both of his seasons and helping them reach the 1993 Final Four before losing to North Carolina in the national semifinals. He averaged 15.6 points over 68 games for Kansas, and was named Big Eight conference male athlete of the year in his senior season.
“(Kansas) is where I went to school, got married and it’s a place I called home for eight years,” Walters said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some old faces, old teammates and what has changed.”
One thing that has not changed is the Jayhawks’ status as a national power. Although Kansas has not reached the Final Four since 2003, its 213 wins this decade are second only to Duke’s 232.
This season, the Jayhawks (5-0) are off to their best start since they opened with 14 straight wins in 2004-05, and they have outscored their first five opponents by an average margin of more than 25 points.
However, Sunday night’s game against Arizona was much closer. Kansas took an early double-digit lead, but committed a season-high 15 turnovers and had to go to overtime before eventually beating the Wildcats 76-72.
“We don’t play smart,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We had a chance to crack the game open and had about six straight terrible offensive and defensive possessions consecutively. We played stubborn, which is very frustrating.”
Kansas got a big lift from junior guard Brandon Rush, who scored a season-high 17 points - five in overtime - while playing 36 minutes off the bench in his third game back after offseason knee surgery. He had not played more than 16 minutes in either of his other two games, but reported no pain after his most extended action of the season.
“It just makes the whole team play better, seeing him out there,” said forward Darrell Arthur, who had 20 points to lead four Jayhawks in double figures. “When we see him play hard, everybody’s going to play hard.”
Arthur is averaging 15 points and 6.6 rebounds per game - both team highs. Junior guard Mario Chalmers, who added 14 points against Arizona, is averaging 12.4 per game.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Jayhawks and the Owls (1-5), a team from the Sun Belt conference which has lost its last three games by double-digit margins. Florida Atlantic is also 0-3 on the road, including a 77-66 defeat at UMKC on Monday night.
Junior forward Carlos Monroe had a season-high 26 points and added 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. He’s averaging a double-double, with 17.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
The Jayhawks are 15-2 all-time against the current members of the Sun Belt. After this contest, Kansas faces its first road game Sunday afternoon at No. 22 Southern California.