Chicago A heckler screamed "Bradley, Bucknell" at Kansas University's basketball players as they exited the court after a 33-minute workout late Thursday afternoon in the United Center.
"They can say what they want to say," sophomore Mario Chalmers said of critics, who, because of first-round NCAA Tournament losses to the Killer B's the past two seasons, expect the Jayhawks (30-4) to become the first No. 1-seeded team in history to lose to a No. 16 tonight.
Tipoff for the Jayhawks' contest with Niagara is 6:10 p.m., with a live telecast on CBS.
"We're focused. We're ready for the tournament," Chalmers added.
The Jayhawks faced their final barrage of first-round-flameout questions from the media Thursday and admitted they were tiring of the topic as Niagara tip time nears.
"We've been thinking about it for a long time. Now is the time for us to make up for it," junior guard Russell Robinson said. "You can definitely tell he (coach Bill Self) doesn't want it on his shoulders anymore."
2491 total votes.
Yet Self isn't talking about the past much as he prepares his red-hot team - winner of 11 straight games - against an even-hotter Niagara squad - 12 straight victories.
"I don't think fear of failure is a great way to motivate, because your emphasis is on failure," Self said. "We need to prepare to be successful."
Thus, the players say their coach hasn't been talking much about the recent past.
The media, however, are a different story.
"I hate it," sophomore Brandon Rush said of discussing Bradley and Bucknell, not Niagara. "It's tiring."
Yet he says it hasn't affected game preparation.
"I think we're loose," Rush said of the team's mood. "We're not tight like last year. We've been here before. We've not gotten tight all year. Why start now?"
Both teams, in fact, appeared mighty confident Thursday during their mandated media sessions. KU was so focused on business the Jayhawks did not horse around and take halfcourt shots or do the dunk drill that normally completes their pre-first-round practice before a few hundred fans.
"My gut feeling is we're going to wind up in Atlanta," KU's Robinson said of the site of the Final Four, "but it's going to take a lot of hard work and effort to get there."
It starts tonight against a team with four starters averaging double-digit scoring.
But can a No. 16 seed beat at No. 1?
"I think it is going to happen. I don't know when," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "We said, 'If we're going to be a 15 seed, we might as well be 16. We might as well do something miraculous.' That was before I saw the Kansas tape."
He showed his team not only tapes of KU, but the movie "Hoosiers" on the 4 1/2-hour bus ride from Dayton, Ohio - site of Tuesday's play-in victory over Florida A&M; - to Chicago.
"Once a year we watch it on the bus," he said of the story of a small-school team in Indiana rolling to the state crown. "We have a confident team. One of our guys said, 'Coach, we're not going to play slow-down are we? We're going to play our game.' That inspired all the coaches, confidence like that."
The Jayhawks make it clear if they lose tonight, it won't be because they took Niagara lightly.
"Coach Self said it's the best 16 seed in the tournament," Rush said.
"They are way better than a 16 seed," Chalmers added.
Self is wary of the team led by 6-foot-7 senior Clif Brown, who scored 32 in Tuesday's victory over Florida A&M; and averages 16.5 points a game. It's believed KU's Wright will open defensively on Brown.
"No. Niagara is not a 16-seed," Self said. "You play whoever you play, (but) they are 21-4 with their full complement of players. We've not played anybody who can shoot like they can all year. We're playing a hot team with a 4-man that can shoot it up much like Somerville (Marcellus, Bradley) last year."
It's a new year, of course, and the Jayhawks fully expect to prevail and meet either Villanova or Kentucky at 4 p.m. Sunday, with the winner moving on to the Sweet 16.
"We've got to go out and handle business," Robinson said.
If not :
"I don't think there'd be a bigger upset. It'd be the biggest in history," Niagara's J.R. Duffey said.