PORTLAND STATE HAS KANSAS' ATTENTION
OMAHA, Neb. – A No. 16 seed never has defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But that doesn't mean the Kansas Jayhawks will be taking Portland State lightly when the teams meet Friday at the Qwest Center.
"If we're not careful, it could happen to us," KU forward Sasha Kaun said.
The Jayhawks know all about early exits, having lost in the first round for two straight years before reaching the Elite Eight last season.
In many ways Kansas' players said Portland State is a lot like the Bucknell and Bradley squads that shocked them in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
"Our main focus is to try to compete with them and keep our intensity at the same level that they're playing with," forward Darnell Jackson said. "If we walk around here all cocky … the next thing you know you lose and you're going to be disappointed."
• Kansas' players said they weren't upset by a quote from Portland State coach Ken Bone in Wednesday's Oregonian. Bone said his team was looking forward to playing an opponent of its "caliber."
"Kansas has all the tools," Bone told the paper. "They're big, strong, quick, athletic and aggressive … and they're very beatable.
Jayhawks guard Brandon Rush shrugged off the comment.
"We're definitely beatable," Rush said. "We got beat three times this year. But we're still a great team."
• Speaking of Rush, the 6-foot-6 junior said he has been working on a few post moves in preparation for his matchup against 5-6 Portland State guard Jeremiah Dominguez. Rush said he once played against Dominguez on the AAU circuit.
"He gets right up under you," Rush said. "It's tough to do things sometimes."
• As if Kansas didn't already have enough depth, the Jayhawks continue to get more contributions from freshman forward Cole Aldrich.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound McDonald's All-American was limited to mop-up duty for most of the season. But don't be surprised if he plays a significant role in the tournament if Jackson and Kaun struggle or if Darrell Arthur gets into foul trouble.
"Going against Sasha and Darnell and Shady everyday in practice is really starting to pay off," Aldrich said. "I feel a little more comfortable when I'm on the court. Things have slowed down a little bit.
"When I first started I was like, 'Where's Sherron? Where's Russell? I can't find them!' I was just in awe of everything that was going on. Now I can get into the flow of the game and really understand everything that's going on."
– Jason King
FISHER WANTS THE BALL; ADAMS IS HEALTHY
OMAHA, Neb. – If Kent State's game against UNLV comes down to the final seconds, don't be surprised if guard Al Fisher ends up with the ball in his hands.
Fisher, the MAC Player of the Year, has scored in double figures in 13 of Kent State's last 16 games, and he hit game winning shots against Miami (Ohio) and Akron.
"He saved us this year," teammate Mike Scott said. "He put us in the position to be here."
• Forward Haminn Quaintance ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 10 points per game. But the 6-foot-8 senior could play a bigger role in the offense against a UNLV squad that features just one starter taller than 6-6.
• Kent State is one of just six Division I programs to win 20 or more games in each of the last 10 seasons.
• UNLV, which starts two walk-ons, is making its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since 1990-91.
• Runnin' Rebels guard Wink Adams said he almost is back to full health after battling an illness over the weekend.
"Saturday, it was real bad," Adams said. "My body was aching. I couldn't really eat. After Saturday morning, my next meal was probably Monday. It wears on your body and takes a lot of your strength away.
"But right now I'm drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of food. I'm getting my strength back and getting ready for the game."
– Jason King
BEASLEY, MAYO REUNITE
OMAHA, Neb. – Thursday's game between the Wildcats and Trojans will be a reunion of sorts for K-State's Bill Walker and USC's O.J. Mayo, who for a time were high school teammates.
"We went to the same preschool," Walker said. "We used to get into trouble for sneaking up under our cots at nap time. We got in trouble together."
Walker actually called Mayo a few hours before the NCAA tournament pairings were announced Sunday and predicted the schools would be matched up. Not that he was excited about it.
"You never want to go up against a friend in a situation like this, where our basketball lives depend on it," Walker said. "But I'm looking forward to competing against him. I know what he'll bring to the table. We gotta be ready to match it."
• The Kansas Jayhawks are familiar with K-State and USC, having defeated both teams this season. Guard Brandon Rush gave his take on the game.
"Kansas State has better freshmen, but USC is tough, too," Rush said. "They play great defense, and they've got a great guard (Mayo). I'm going with USC. They have more players than Kansas State."
Jayhawks coach Bill Self broke down the matchup, too. But he stopped short of picking a winner.
"It'll be a great game," Self said. "USC's offense is catching up to its defense. Early in the season USC's defense was fabulous. Now its offense is catching up to its defense. USC is more complete now.
"Still, I don't know how you guard Beasley. You can play unbelievable defense on him and guard him well, and he can get 30 anytime. We guarded him well and held him to 39. I think it'll be very unique. He'll have to have a big game and Bill will, too."
– Jason King
BUTCH GLAD TO BE HEALTHY THIS MARCH
OMAHA, Neb. – Wisconsin is back in the NCAA tournament after losing to UNLV on the tourney's opening weekend last season. A dislocated elbow suffered in a regular-season contest against Ohio State kept forward Brian Butch from playing in that game. Butch's injury has been viewed more than 130,000 times on YouTube.
"I have not seen it and I don't plan on seeing it," Butch said. "I tried to look at it … but I had to turn my head."
Butch is just glad he will be able to compete in the NCAA tournament in this, his senior season.
"To have an injury take that dream away from you, it's frustrating," Butch said. "But I realized that it just happens sometimes, and I moved forward. I was pretty motivated to keep on going. Now it's my last hurrah. I want to play the best basketball that I can."
• Guard Michael Flowers said he isn't discouraged by the scores of pundits and prognosticators that are predicting an early exit by the Big Ten champion Badgers.
"A lot of that has to do with people not being exposed to Wisconsin basketball," Butch said. "A lot of people are familiar with Duke and North Carolina because they're in the media all the time. We're a sleeper in that sense. Hopefully we can open some eyes in the tournament."
• One of the more interesting nuggets of the NCAA tournament is that Cal State Fullerton made The Dance with a team full of transfers.
And when we say full, we mean full.
Every member of the Titans' 11-man roster began his career at a different school. Included in that field is Josh Akognon, a Washington State transfer who leads the squad in scoring with 19 points per game.
The two other players who average double figures also attended Division I schools. Scott Cutley began his career at Kent State while Frank Robinson started at East Carolina.
• The Titans, who are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1978, apparently are a bit on the superstitious side. Cal State Fullerton is using the same Omaha bus driver (Mike Williams) who was assigned to the school's baseball team during its last six trips here for the College World Series.
– Jason King