Monday, March 18, 2013

Hilltopper ‘owes’ Elijah Johnson

Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.


When Western Kentucky University guard Jamal Crook learned that his 16th-seeded Hilltoppers would face top-seeded Kansas University in the second round of this year’s NCAA Tournament on Friday in Kansas City, Mo., his mind immediately flashed back to his senior season of high school in Las Vegas.

During the 2007-08 season opener for Durango High, Crook first encountered KU point guard Elijah Johnson in a match-up of the city’s most highly recruited player (Johnson) and highest-rated newcomer (Crook).

At the time, Johnson, a junior at Cheyenne High, was on his way to becoming one of the top point-guard prospects in the nation, and he showed why during his match-up with Crook, scoring 18 points and leading the Desert Shields to a 78-77 overtime victory.

Crook has not forgotten.

“I owe him,” he told the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News on Sunday, moments after the match-up was revealed. “I played him in my debut, and they beat us. I’ll remember that game in the back of my head as we go down there and take this ride.”

The ride has been as wild as they come for the Hilltoppers (20-15), who made the field of 68 by winning four games in four days in the Sun Belt Conference’s postseason tournament. WKU finished just 10-10 in conference play during the regular season, but knocked off three schools that finished above them in the standings on consecutive days by a total of seven points to earn a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Although winning the conference tournament guaranteed the ’Toppers a spot in the tourney, WKU coach Ray Harper still seemed thrilled about what his squad had accomplished.

“It’s what you play for,” Harper told the Daily News. “It’s what you work for, to enjoy the whole process. They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason. It’s one of those deals where you’re extremely excited that you’re still playing, and we’ll go play. We’ll see what happens.”

The Hilltoppers are not a typical 16 seed.

In last year’s NCAAs, WKU topped Mississippi Valley State, 59-58, in a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, before falling to eventual-champion Kentucky, 81-66, in the second round. And this year, the Hilltoppers played four games against tournament teams, including back-to-back battles with Louisville and VCU and two match-ups with Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee. WKU lost all four games, but such experiences should keep them from being overwhelmed by facing Kansas.

“Great program, great team, big challenge,” Harper told the Daily News. “Bill Self does as good of a job as anyone in the country. But I know our guys will go compete.”

Western Kentucky’s relevance in college basketball is not limited to the recent past. The Hilltoppers own four NCAA Tournament victories since 2008; boast 22 NCAA Tournament berths all-time; have corralled 42 conference championships, which is tied for third most in NCAA history; and are 17th in NCAA history in all-time wins (1,659). In addition, the program has advanced to the Sweet 16 seven times and qualified for the Final Four in 1971 in Houston, where it topped, of all teams, Kansas.

None of that will mean much Friday, when Western Kentucky tries to solve a KU team that won its ninth straight Big 12 regular-season title and rolled to the Big 12 tournament title last weekend. Harper knows enough about the Jayhawks (29-5) to know what his team is up against. But, just as he was last year in the match-up with Kentucky, the second-year WKU coach who guided the team to the tournament as the interim head coach a season ago is fired up for the opportunity to take a shot at one of the nation’s top teams.

“(Jeff) Withey (is) obviously one of the top big guys in the country,” Harper told the Daily News. “(Ben) McLemore (is) one of the premier freshman players in the country. Their point guard (Johnson) … I remember the game in particular at Iowa State, where he went for about 40. They’re just a very talented team. We know what kind of challenge it’ll be. There’s never been a 16 to beat a 1, so let’s go play.”


Steve Zimmerman 8 years, 7 months ago

'Hawks, let's show them no mercy from this point on. No more softies, no more missing bunnies, no more missing 3s, let's value the ball, let's kill kill kill 'em all. Whether it's 16th, 11th - kill whoever gets in our way!! Like CS said, let's show them how #1 seed play & win it all! Rock Chalk!

johninkc1 8 years, 7 months ago

Really, why do you care about UK? I just hope they go home early and we can make up some ground on them in the overall standings. Are you sure you're on the right board?

Alec White 8 years, 7 months ago

I'm literally lol'ing at the thought of Kentucky fans breaking down this matchup.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 7 months ago

Let's play well enough from the start that no one needs to play even 30 minutes.

Fresh legs for Sunday would be good.

timcampbell 8 years, 7 months ago

Should be fine if they play smart and limit the turnovers. Hopefully Ellis keeps his hot streak going and continues to improve.

ajhk 8 years, 7 months ago

Come to play boys! This will be the Hilltopper's NC, they will bring everything they have.

Shut them down with suffocating defense right away. Crush their spirit, and stuff the hoop. This is the tourney, it is not the time to be concerned with fresh legs or anything about the next game.

Prepare the mind to bring it all from here on out. Every team you face will be doing just that.

Michael Luby 8 years, 7 months ago

One game at a time, 6 games left. We got this.

FearlessJayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

I have mixed feelings about my Jayhawks. On one hand, I am a nervous about KU getting out of Kansas City. But on the other hand, with the right situations, I could see KU going all the way. Look at the past. KU has always struggled with the nobody's, Bucknell, Bradley, VCU. Thankfully, TCU isn't in the tournament. Notice we will probably have to play VCU because this crappy little team from Virginia always seems to play out of their jock-straps come tournament time. Wichita State beat them on their home court earlier this year. I think Roy may get surprised by the supernova. I may be fearless but I'm feeling a little on edge. No matter what, I'm putting my trust in Bill Self to hopefully get his much deserved second national championship.

Kevin Huffman 8 years, 7 months ago

I'd be surprised if Michigan doesn't advance to the Sweet 16 in Auburn Hills.

monkeehawkSL8 8 years, 7 months ago

Fearless, just a couple quick questions. If the table were turned and we weren't Kansas, would you consider your evaluation ample bulletin board material? If you were from a school that hadn't had the success the Jayhawks have had would you read your post and say,"gosh, that guy comes from a real class fan base that appreciates and respects all program's". If these team's were "nobody's", we wouldn't have lost to them in the first place. Coach Self constantly shows class by not engaging the media like some coaches that whine about everything after a lose. Would you consider doing the same thing? "Take care of the ball and we can win it all".

JD Roth 8 years, 7 months ago

VCU, a nobody??? Right. I do think Michigan will have a remedy for havoc, but make no mistake, VCU is a quality team. Bring them all on, I want to see this team play 6 more games like every other KU fan. I wouldn't call any team a nobody after some of the "upsets" this season.

Joseph Bullock 8 years, 7 months ago

I don't think you know a lot about basletball, pertaining to talent. It has been a while, but I think Bucknell had to beat Pittsburg (in the Pit), when Pittsburg was good, so they had talent, and could play under pressure. I believe Bradley had a 7 footer, whom K.U. had no answer for (they NCAA loves making those kinds of matchups). And VCU, I think beat a great Florida State team, to be able to play us (I was at the games--I think it was FSU), and FSU had a monster team. Also VCU was super athletic, played great defense (all year long), and shot extremely well. That being said, every team is dangerous in a one game series.

Joseph Bullock 8 years, 7 months ago

PS: My post here was in response to fearless post!

kellerman411 8 years, 7 months ago

They key here is just get out of Kansas City. Get through this first weekend and then come back to Lawrence and regroup for a couple days before Dallas or wherever the next stop is.

If KU gets out of Kansas City alive, I think they go to the Final Four.

Kevin Huffman 8 years, 7 months ago

I think the Sweet 16 & Elite 8 games are at Cowboys Stadium (now in Arlington, TX).

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

"Hello, my name Is JLost and I am a wrongaholic."

Just joshing, JLost.

Did you notice KU not only got a 1 seed you were Quixotically confident it would not get, but that KU got the 2 seed overall? :-)

Wrongaholism is a terrible disease.

Did you check into the Moe Howard Clinic for wrongaholism?

Man up.

You can do it.

There may also be a program for adult children of wrongaholics.

Just joshing again. :-)

Check it out.

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

Time for Self to break the conventional thinking mold again.

Screw one at a time.

Play'em 6 at once.. :-)

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

Ok, lets be "classy" and go out flat with our B game in order to save our A game for game 2.

This is classy since we get upset occasionally doing it, but we go way deep when it works. :-):-)

monkeehawkSL8 8 years, 7 months ago

"Take care of the ball and we can win it all"

Tony Bandle 8 years, 7 months ago

I posted this earlier but it bears repeating.

I think this morning there are 68 teams claiming they have the toughest road to the Final Four and that the NCAA Committee screwed them!!

This may be the ultimate definition of parity...afterall, the best contract is the one when no one is entirely happy.

PREDICTION - This is the way I see it.

1] KU fights through first round jitters and beats WK.

2] Uncle Roy chokes facing the possibility of taking on his alma mater and loses to 'Nova. then Kansas beats Villanova in a game that ends up much closer than it should be.

3] Hawks travel to Dallas for Sweet 16 and disposes of over-rated Florida.

4] Kansas then handles Georgetown in surprisingly easy fashion.

5] Onto to Atlanta whereby Miaimi is not so easy but we beat them in overtime setting up the Final.

6] KU goes against Louisville whereby Elijah gains eternal redemption and fame by hitting a three pointer at the buzzer to break the tie and bring NC #6 to Lawrence!!

Now that wasn't so hard, was it??

JD Roth 8 years, 7 months ago

Number 3 won't happen because Florida is not in the equation. Probably either VCU or Michigan.

JD Roth 8 years, 7 months ago

Number 2 won't happen because Roy coaches his alma mater. Tough day for OakvilleJHawk.

cklarock 8 years, 7 months ago

"Kansas Jayhawks! What is best in life?"

"To crush your opponents, see them blown out before you, and hear the lamentation of their fanbase."

dylans 8 years, 7 months ago

Time to extract revenge for JoJo White.

741hawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Dear Dyslexic Dylans: I believe that was Texas Western.

Tyson Ailshie 8 years, 7 months ago

I really believe that our ultimate success in the tournament will be based on how well the assistant coaches prepare scouting reports on each team and how well we execute them.

Woody Cragg 8 years, 7 months ago

Teleconf just over for Bill & was on Brando show min before. Said he asked his team last night if they knew who was the greatest player in WKY history??? Rather tongue in cheek his reply-none other than coach KT. Games are not a gimmee now so the extra prep will be good with possibly NC out there in the bushes. We matchup good with them, but Villanova may very well be our opponent. They've nailed teams of Pitino, Boheim, and Thompson in the Big East. NC struggled badly in ACC & perhaps Jay Wright has a payback for Kansas in doubt he does. Morris twins, Chalmers, etc. Assistant coaches are key players in this tournament prep so get that mojo fired up again Kurtis, UDAMAN!

Kyle Neuer 8 years, 7 months ago

Is it just me, or does the selection committee have it in for Roy Williams? I am kinda surprised they didn't feed us mizzou.

Woody Cragg 8 years, 7 months ago

Maybe we would've been in line for misery if they could get past round one. Unlikely sel committee thought possible. LOLOLOLOL!

Mo Mosallaei 8 years, 7 months ago

Sorry Crook. I think if anything Elijah owes YOU one. Imagine beating you by only one point. You won't be so lucky this time.

stm62 8 years, 7 months ago

If Elijah and our freshmen come to play, watch out.

Dale Koch 8 years, 7 months ago

Beat Western Kentucky first...then worry about the next game!

Joseph Bullock 8 years, 7 months ago

So Jamal Crook wants payback on E.J. Well, Iowa State wanted payback on K.U., too. I think as the game goes on, he will be a very frustrated young man, and all of his confidense will be gone, and he will be thinking "I wish I wouldn't have said that"! Iowa State will tell you: Be Careful What You Wish For!!!!!!! Especially when it comes to playing the Kansas Jayhawks!

kennethst 8 years, 7 months ago

So......I tell my 3 year old daughter that KU is playing a team called the "Hilltoppers".....She giggled and said "That's silly"........This while she is sitting at her play table trying to pull on the buckled,gold shoe of her stuffed Baby Jayhawk.

Some irony there....but I just let it go and agreed with her. You have to love mascots.....especially Jayhawks!!

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