San Antonio — Although 30 years ago Larry Brown coached Kansas to a national championship, he downplayed his role with this year’s Jayhawks on Friday at The Alamodome.
“I’ve got a vested interest in Villanova and Kansas, because I love both of the coaches,” Brown said, before the Final Four showdown between the two programs, adding he has a lot of respect for Michigan’s John Beilein, as well.
“I’m just thankful I’m around and can enjoy it,” Brown added. “Proud of the kids and proud of the people that are involved in my life that I’m able to be here.”
When Brown used to coach the Philadelphia 76ers, Villanova coach Jay Wright said, he would spend time around the Wildcats’ staff and make various X’s and O’s-related observations.
Brown said he misses that part of being a head coach now more than any other aspect of the profession.
San Antonio — Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham, at the Final Four for the first time, said the Jayhawks are excited to be at The Alamodome, but they realize they are at this showcase to take care of business.
As KU’s players have prepared for Saturday’s semifinal versus Villanova, a focus has been on the Wildcats’ ability to beat opponents with their 3-point shooting.
“I feel like it’ll be kind of like a shootout,” Graham said of the upcoming semifinal. “But they’ve got a lot of good shooters, and that’s why they shoot more. But so do we. They play around the arc just like we do, but they can also play inside. And their 5-man shoots it, as well.”
San Antonio — After deboarding the bus at the team’s hotel Wednesday night, Kansas coach Bill Self, back at the Final Four for the first time since 2012, said his players seem focused headed into a national semifinal versus Villanova.
“Today was good,” Self said of KU’s practice in Lawrence, before the team headed to Texas. “Considering two days off, effort was good, attitude’s good. But how could you have a bad attitude right now?”
While the players have taken pride in getting to college basketball’s grandest stage, Self said they also realize there’s work left to be done.
“You’ve come this far,” he said, “don’t you want to go ahead and finish the job?
The Jayhawks’ coach also provided updates on family members of international players hoping to attend KU-Villanova at The Alamodome this weekend, and discussed some of his thoughts on the Wildcats.
San Antonio — The winners of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest regional, the Kansas Jayhawks arrived at their team hotel in San Antonio Wednesday night, three days ahead of the Final Four.
KU’s coaches and players were met by a media horde, eager fans and the school’s fight song as they made their way into the lobby.
Kansas will take on Villanova Saturday night, at The Alamodome, in the second national semifinal.
Omaha, Neb. — As he has during every media session since injuring his left knee before the Big 12 tournament, Kansas center Udoka Azubuike provided another update on his status Saturday, on the eve of the Elite Eight.
The 7-foot sophomore said he couldn’t really tell what percentage his knee was at but admitted it’s still not 100 percent — he is wearing a brace on it after all.
The starting center remembered head coach Bill Self saying Azubuike’s left knee was 100 percent before the Clemson game and laughed. KU’s big man said he aggravated his knee “a little bit” on a fall during KU’s Sweet 16 win Friday night.
“But it’s not that serious,” he added, the day before the Jayhawks’ regional final showdown against Duke, and freshman bigs Wendell Carter Jr., and Marvin Bagley III.
Azubuike added he hopes his knee will feel close to 100 percent against the Blue Devils.
Omaha, Neb. — During the NCAA Tournament it’s common for coaches and players to compare an upcoming opponent to a team they faced earlier in the season.
Asked Thursday at CenturyLink Center whether Clemson reminded him of any team Kansas took on this year, head coach Bill Self explained the No. 5 seed Tigers actually look similar to the Jayhawks.
“I think if I was going to compare them to anybody I’d compare them to us,” Self said, noting how KU almost always has starting guards Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick on the floor. “You could say the same thing about their threesome.”
Clemson relies on starting guards Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe for the much of its offense.
“They have three. But all three of those guys are like Malik — they can go out and get 30. Or they could be like Devonte’ and go get 35 or they could be like Svi and get 30,” Self said. “These guys can really score the ball and they’re good with the ball, and the other thing that they probably do better than us in that regard is they can go get their own shot when the offense breaks down.”
Omaha, Neb. — Shortly after his Kansas basketball team arrived at its hotel Wednesday night, coach Bill Self said his top-seeded Jayhawks are as healthy as they have been all season, ahead of their Sweet 16 matchup with Clemson.
What’s more, Self said 7-foot KU center Udoka Azubuike has been participating at full speed.
“Now, his timing may not be great,” Self warned of Azubuike, who recently sprained the MCL in his left knee, “but his health is good. If we take him out it’ll probably be because he picks up two silly fouls early, not because of any type of problems.”
The Jayhawks (29-7) take on the Tigers (25-9) at 6:07 p.m. Friday, at CenturyLink Center.
Mitch Lightfoot: Bill Self and Devonte’ Graham deserve credit for navigating KU through early deficit
Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot said after the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament victory over Penn that head coach Bill Self helped steer him to a productive second half, during which Lightfoot scored nine points and secured nine rebounds.
“He just kind of got on to us, told us the bigs need to set better screens and give us a better presence,” Lightfoot shared of Self’s halftime message.
A sophomore forward who is currently starting in place of Udoka Aazubuike as the center works his left knee back into shape, Lightfoot attributed KU’s rally from a 10-point deficit to Self, as well as team leader Devonte’ Graham.
“He did a great job of leading us and showing us how we could fight,” Lightfoot said of Graham, the team’s senior point guard.
The top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest region, Kansas fell behind by 10 points in the first half versus No. 16 seed Penn Thursday before recovering for a 76-60 victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
Jayhawks senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, who scored a game-best 29 points, credited the upset-minded Quakers for attacking KU early, and taking a 21-11 lead.
“It was more what they were doing. They came out running their offense well and it’s hard to guard when you’re trying to play up and pressure but you’re worried about the backdoor. And then they might come up and fake it one way and come off a down-screen and the next thing you know they’ve got a wide-open jump shot,” Graham said, referring to Penn’s 4-for-7 start on 3-pointers.
“They was releasing the ball so quick it was hard to get to them, and then they was knocking down shots,” Graham added. “So we just had to come out and settle down after the first 10 minutes and lock in.”
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, after playing three minutes in the first half of the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament victory over Penn, said he could have played in the second half, too.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer, still working his way back form a left-knee injury, said KU coach Bill Self deemed the typical starter didn’t need to play down the stretch of a 76-60 victory.
After not attempting a shot and contributing one rebound and one steal during a stretch from the 8:32 mark to the 5:51 mark of the first half, Azubuike said he didn’t feel hesitant to jump while playing with a brace on his left knee.
“I was only concerned with my running, getting back on defense, sliding my feet,” Azubuike said. “That’s pretty much what I was really concerned about. I wasn’t concerned about my jump, because I know once you throw me a lob or something I’m going to jump and get it.”