Riding a three-game winning streak and finally feeling good about the direction of the team and their play on the floor, the Jayhawks head into an off week with two monster games on the horizon.
The outcomes of this Saturday’s game at Texas Tech and next Monday’s clash with Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse will go a long way toward determining whether the Jayhawks extend their NCAA-record streak of consecutive Big 12 titles from 14 to 15.
And the work the Jayhawks put in during the days leading up to those pivotal games no doubt will determine how well Kansas fares in those Big 12 battles.
“The next two games are vitally important to win the league,” KU coach Bill Self said Saturday, after KU’s 78-53 win over West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse. “I don’t know if Iowa State did us a favor (by beating K-State on Saturday) or not because they have the best schedule to finish up. They’re in a great spot. It will come down to the last game of the year. For us to be a part of it, we need to be really good (during) that 48-hour stretch next Saturday and, of course, on Monday.”
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers at Allen Fieldhouse.
With the Red Raiders next on KU’s schedule, logic would suggest that, with seven days between games, KU has all the time it needs to prepare for Chris Beard’s squad, which currently sits at 21-5 overall and is tied with KU at 9-4 in Big 12 play, a half game behind first-place Kansas State.
Both KU and TTU are off until Saturday, with K-State playing at West Virginia on Monday night.
And while it’s true that the Jayhawks feel like they have plenty of valuable time to scout and game plan for their next game, Self said Saturday that the Jayhawks would not spend the entire week prepping for Tech.
“I wish we had an extra day to prepare for K-State,” Self said, referencing the quick turnaround between the game in Lubbock, Texas, this weekend and next Monday’s showdown with KSU. “So we can prepare for K-State (this) Monday and then we’ll have the rest of the week for Tech. That’s the kind of stuff, when you have a week off, that I think can be a benefit to you.”
Self also pointed out that the week off followed by two games 48 hours apart could be good preparation for what's to come long after the Big 12 trophy is handed out.
"It’s like the NCAA Tournament," he said. "You prepare some on the first day and the second day you prepare for the team you think you will be playing. Great preparation week. We have to go compete. Texas Tech is on a big-time roll right now.”
The other major benefit of not playing a mid-week game this late in the season can be summed up in a single word: rest.
“I think it’s a good time (for the week off),” Self said. “Because I think Dedric (Lawson is) tired. Getting him some days (off) would be good this week.”
Beyond that, the Jayhawks can use the week to give injured sophomore Marcus Garrett more time to heal his ankle and allow the rest of the members of the roster to lighten up on what they have been putting their bodies through, as well.
“I think it’s good,” said junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who has become a bit of an enforcer on this team in recent games. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to get healed up, but, at the same time, we’ve got to get ready for Texas Tech. Marcus is working hard to get back, and a couple of other guys are nicked up in the heart of the season. In Big 12 play, you’ve got a lot of good players out there going as hard as they can.”
While pulling back on the physical demands this team has endured week after week during the Big 12 grind will be the plan this week, Lightfoot added that he was not at all worried that tapping the brakes would have a negative effect on the roll the Jayhawks currently are enjoying.
“I think we’re pretty wired,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy that goes on in practice, and we all understand what it takes and we’re fighting. This team’s built on that ability to fight. We see our goal and we’re doing whatever it takes to get there.”