Bill Self doesn’t need to remind his Kansas players about the school’s last game in the Big 12 Championship.
Atop the rankings once again, the Jayhawks look to make up for last year’s early tournament exit Thursday when they face Texas Tech in quarterfinal play in Kansas City.
A year ago, Kansas won its fifth straight Big 12 regular-season title, but it was upset 71-64 by Baylor in its first game of the tournament. It was the first time the Jayhawks lost their initial contest in the 13-year history of the event.
Though Kansas (29-2) went on to reach the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament and came back to win another conference championship this season, a majority of its roster is back and still remembers the sting of last year’s defeat.
“For us to win the conference and then lose our first game in the tournament was very disappointing,” said star guard Sherron Collins, who had 16 points against Baylor. “We’re trying not to let that happen. We’re working hard and staying positive.”
Winners of consecutive games since dropping their only league contest at Oklahoma State on Feb. 27, the Jayhawks certainly have the motivation to earn a league-record seventh Big 12 tournament title some 40 miles from their Lawrence campus.
“We are a lot better basketball team than we were last year,” Self said. “Last year if one guy out of two did not play well, we probably did not have a great chance to win. This year it has been proven that we probably have enough depth and balance.”
With four players averaging double figures and eight playing at least 15 minutes per contest, Kansas won the league’s regular-season title by four games. The Jayhawks returned to the No. 1 spot in the poll after previously top-ranked Syracuse lost at Louisville on Saturday, and they’re likely headed to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In 2008, Kansas won the national championship after winning the league tournament in Kansas City. However, the Jayhawks feel they have something to prove as the event returns to the Sprint Center.
“We want to go play like we’re the best team in the country and finish the season off as the best team in the country,” freshman Thomas Robinson said.
That quest beings Thursday against ninth-seeded Texas Tech (17-14), which snapped a seven-game losing streak with an 82-67 win over Colorado in Wednesday’s first round.
Kansas won 89-63 at home in its only meeting with Texas Tech on Jan. 16. Marcus Morris had 20 points as the Jayhawks held the Red Raiders to a season-low 32.8 percent shooting. Morris is averaging 15.5 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 63.2 percent from the field in two career games versus Texas Tech.
Though Kansas has won nine of 12 against Texas Tech, Red Raiders coach Pat Knight knows anything is possible, especially after what Baylor did last year.
“Yeah, it’s going to be tough,” said Knight, whose team allowed a league-worst 76.4 points per game during the season. “It’s like comparing my win/loss record to my old man’s. It’s going to be tough. (But) you get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the country. A lot of funny things happen in these conference tournaments.”
Texas Tech leading scorer Mike Singletary (14.8 points per game), who had 13 against Colorado, looks to bounce back after being held scoreless versus the Jayhawks in January.
This is the second tournament meeting between the teams. Kansas won 90-50 in the 2002 semifinals in Kansas City.