Kansas University’s well-traveled basketball team, which has played five of its first 10 games outside of Allen Fieldhouse, today tackles its first test in a true enemy gym.
The Jayhawks (7-3), who went 2-1 at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii, 0-1 at the Champions Classic in New York and lost to Davidson Monday in Kansas City, meet USC (5-7) at the Trojans’ Galen Center.
Tipoff is 10 p.m. Central time, with a live telecast on FSN.
“You always need to play on the road before you go into league play,” KU coach Bill Self said.
His Jayhawks have games remaining against Howard (Dec. 29) and North Dakota (Dec. 31) in Allen Fieldhouse prior to the Jan. 4 Big 12 opener against Kansas State, also in Allen.
“Some years we have one road game, some years two, some three. We need to go into somebody else’s building, no question,” Self said.
Of course, there’s no guarantee tonight’s atmosphere will be especially hostile.
Galen Center seats 10,258.
The Trojans drew 3,208 for Monday’s game against TCU and 3,784 the game before that (Dec. 17) versus Georgia. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which 5,000 or so KU fans bust the turnstiles as they did two years ago at UCLA.
“Going on the road is different,” Self said. “You’ve got to have a tighter huddle, be more focused. We’ve been such a good road team over the years, but this is one (year) where we don’t have as much margin for error. We need to be focused and disciplined, some things we really haven’t been, to be quite candid with you, except during stretches.
“We haven’t put 40 minutes together on someone’s court away form home. It’ll certainly be a challenge for our guys.”
USC, which returns standout guard Maurice Jones off a team that fell to the Jayhawks, 70-68, last Dec. 18 in Allen Fieldhouse, enters two games under .500.
The Trojans halted a three-game losing streak Monday by exploding for a season-high 83 points in an 83-59 win over TCU. The Trojans, who average just 56.6 points per game to KU’s 75.2 ppg mark, have lost to New Mexico, 44-41, and Cal Poly, 42-36, at Galen Center.
The Trojans have also lost to Nebraska in double overtime, San Diego State, UNLV, Minnesota and Georgia. USC has beaten Cal State Northridge, Morgan State, South Carolina, UC Riverside and TCU.
“They are good defensively, patient offensively,” Self said. “They beat a pretty good TCU team handily where they scored 83, so obviously they are scoring better.”
Coach Kevin O’Neill’s team is led by sophomore guard Jones, who averages a team-leading 15.6 ppg. Junior forward Aaron Fuller averages 11.3 ppg and 6.9 rebounds. Sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon has a team-best 14 blocked shots to go along with his 7.5 scoring and 5.8 rebound averages. Freshmen guards Byron Wesley (6.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Alexis Moore (5.8 ppg) complete the starting lineup.
Sophomore forward Garrett Jackson (4.3 ppg), junior guard Greg Allen (2.9 ppg, four starts) and junior center James Blasczyk (2.4 ppg) are USC’s top reserves. Standout sophomore guard Gio Fontan is out for the season following summertime knee surgery.
The Jayhawks hope to be mentally ready following Monday’s loss to Davidson in Sprint Center.
“We’ll fix it as a team,” KU junior forward Travis Releford said. “It starts individually. We’ve got to know our roles and come together as a team. We have to be ready to play every game.”
Self said he had no idea what the team mind-set was entering the game.
“They’ve had good attitudes (at practice) and tried to do what we want them to do. Losses aren’t that bad early in the season if you learn from it and get better from it,” he said. “If you don’t, then you’ve got problems. Hopefully we will (get better).”
The Jayhawks figure to be ready after last year’s home scare versus the Trojans.
“Well, that was Josh’s coming-out party, obviously. He played great,” Self said of freshman Josh Selby, who scored 21 points in his KU debut. Selby, who is now with the Memphis Grizzlies, hit a three with 26 seconds left to give the Jayhawks a one-point lead. On USC’s next possession, KU’s Tyshawn Taylor blocked a Jones layup. Fontan stepped out of bounds on the ensuing in-bounds pass to give the ball back to the Jayhawks.
Following a missed Tyrel Reed free throw at :04, USC’s Fontan misfired on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer with the Trojans down two.
“They played through their bigs,” Self said of USC. “They came in and had every opportunity to beat us. We were fortunate Josh made a couple plays late to get us the win.”
O’Neill’s take: USC coach O’Neill spoke to the L.A. Daily News about the KU game: “Kansas lost to Davidson so they’ll be upset. I was hoping they would win.”
As to what he wants to get out of the game, he said: “A win. We need a signature win.”
Jayhawks vs. USC: KU leads the all-time series, 10-5, and has won the last six match-ups. The series dates to 1935. KU won the first three, USC five of six from 1958-78. Prior to last season, KU and USC met in a home-and-home series with the Jayhawks winning, 72-62, on Dec. 4, 2006 in Allen, and, 59-55, on Dec. 7, 2008 in Los Angeles.
Ironman: USC’s Jones leads the country in minutes played per game (39.33). Only Zach Rosen of Penn (39.18) also averages more than 39 minutes per game. KU’s Taylor leads the Jayhawks in minutes per game at 32.6.
This, that: USC has attempted 50 free throws in the last two games. In games USC has at least 20 free-throw attempts, the Trojans are 3-2, with the losses being a double-overtime setback vs. Nebraska and a four-point loss to Georgia, which made nine of 13 threes. USC has held its opponents to 55.4 ppg and a 39.2 shooting percentage. USC held opponents to a conference-low of 62.7 ppg during the 2010-11 season. USC was 13-1 in games it held the opponent under 60 points last season.