Kansas City, Mo. — Texas Tech’s basketball team faced the unenviable task of playing Kansas University on the Jayhawks’ Senior Night a mere 10 days ago.
“Obviously we didn’t play great on Senior Night. One of the worst places to play on Senior Night is in Phog Allen (Fieldhouse),” Red Raider interim coach Chris Walker told the Big 12 Network TV crew after Tech’s 71-69 Big 12 tournament opening-round victory over West Virginia on Wednesday night in Sprint Center.
His squad, which was plastered by KU, 79-42, on March 4, today meets the Jayhawks in a 2 p.m., Big 12 quarterfinal in KC.
“On a neutral court ... like I told our guys before (playing) West Virginia, anything can happen,” Walker added. “As a matter of fact, it’s ‘March Madness.’ Anything can happen. I’ve been in those situations (as assistant coach) at Villanova playing against those great Syracuse teams ... having to win a game to get into the tournament. You know what? That’s what the ‘Madness’ is and that’s what our guys are looking forward to.”
KU coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks, who enter with a 26-5 record compared to Tech’s 11-19 mark, also beat the Raiders, 60-46, on Jan. 12 in Lubbock, Texas.
“We labored at Tech. We were up two at halftime,” Self said Wednesday after exiting the team bus at the Kansas City Downtown Marriott Hotel. “We played them on (KU’s) Senior Night and played them very, very well. The great thing about playing Tech for us is we just played them a few days ago. They are fresh in our guys’ minds.”
Not only that ... the Jayhawks figure to be a motivated bunch after losing to Baylor, 81-58, last Saturday in Waco.
“I think our whole team is excited,” Self said at the team hotel. “I know I am. Although we got a piece of the championship (with Kansas State at 14-4) and we shouldn’t apologize for that, it kind of leaves a bittersweet taste. We’d like to come over here and perform well in Kansas City to set the table for what will be hopefully bigger things to come moving forward for all the teams who qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve had a good three days of practice,” Self added. “Our guys are ready to get into our third season (after nonconference and conference). I don’t know if I’ll use it (tying for league crown) as motivation. I do think in the mindset of our guys, there’s still some things to prove.”
The Jayhawks say they won’t take Tech lightly.
“Tech is physical,” KU senior center Jeff Withey said. In fact, Red Raiders big man Dejan Kravic, who was 0-for-6 shooting 10 days ago vs. KU, rebounded a miss from the corner and scored a stickback layup with 0.4 ticks left to beat West Virginia on Wednesday. “When we played them at Tech it was very physical. They rebound the ball well. Even at Allen they were a tough team. They run similar plays to ours.”
KU outrebounded Tech, 45-23, in Lawrence after getting outrebounded 28-26 in Lubbock.
“The No. 1 thing we have to do is rebound,” Walker said. “We’ve got to do a really good job keeping them off the glass. That’s where they kill you.”
Camo on tap today: KU officials confirmed the Jayhawks today will be wearing adidas’ funky camo uniforms. The Journal-World’s Matt Tait reports the uniforms have been selling well in Lawrence. Former KU guard Mario Chalmers of the Miami Heat has asked Jock’s Nitch in Downtown Lawrence to secure him some white camo shorts.
McLemore honored: KU freshman Ben McLemore on Wednesday was named to the USBWAA Freshman All-America Team. Others: Anthony Bennett, UNLV; Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA; Nerlens Noel, Kentucky; Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. Smart was named the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year.
Interim may be promoted: Walker, who was given the “interim” tag after replacing Billy Gillispie, could be named permanent Tech head coach in coming weeks.
“I’ve got a one-day contract with God. Every day I wake up I’m happy to be alive,” Walker told the Studio 66 TV crew. “I wake up tomorrow and I’ll still be coach of Texas Tech basketball. It’s an unbelievable university, an unbelievable opportunity. I take it day by day and whatever happens, happens.”
Practice time: KU practiced in Lawrence on Wednesday afternoon. The Jayhawks did not use their allotted time slot to shoot in Sprint Center.
“We’ve been to 10 Big 12 tournaments since I’ve been here. I’ve never gone a day early to practice,” Self said. “If you don’t play on the first day, to get ample time to practice you need to come in two days early. Why would we come in two days early when we live 45 minutes down the road? Today we had 50 minutes allotted time (in Sprint Center). I can talk for 55. That wasn’t enough time. We needed to practice at our place. Maybe it’ll backfire. Maybe it won’t. I didn’t see any reason we should practice twice today.”
Wide open tourney: The winner of the KU-Texas Tech game will play the winner of today’s 11:30 a.m., Iowa State-Oklahoma game at 6:30 p.m., Friday, in Sprint Center. Finals are 5 p.m., Saturday.
“I’d say this is the most open the tournament has been since I can remember,” Self said. “In most years you look at it and say, ‘This team or that team would have the best chance to run off three in a row.’ I really think you can make a strong case if you poll people who have seen all the teams play that six different teams (KU, K-State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State) ... no one would be surprised that they run off three in a row. There are more than six teams capable of winning three in a row. I’m talking about where there’s absolutely no shock value to it. I think it makes for a pretty interesting tournament.”