Jayhawks bracing for tough challenge against struggling Sooners

Kansas players converse during a break from action in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players converse during a break from action in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A split crowd in Las Vegas and a TCU arena devoid of its regular student section because of winter break make up the extent of the Kansas men’s basketball team’s experience in true road games so far this season.

Both were won by the Jayhawks, who are riding a 14-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s 8 p.m. tip-off at Oklahoma’s Lloyd Noble Center, but head coach Bill Self on Monday said he was uncertain whether his Jayhawks (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12) were ready for life on the road in the Big 12 Conference.

Self called KU’s energy level at UNLV and TCU “average at best,” but added that the Jayhawks have shown much better vigor in the days since the close call against Kansas State last Tuesday.

On paper, tonight’s showdown between second-ranked Kansas, which moved up from No. 3 in the latest AP Poll released Monday, and the struggling Sooners (6-8, 0-3) looks like one of the bigger mismatches of the season.

Lon Kruger’s young and short-handed OU squad has lost six straight games and has played its last four contests without leading scorer Jordan Woodard. According to a Monday report from the Tulsa World, that number will grow to five Tuesday night.

Regardless of all of the factors stacked against the Sooners in this one, Self said his past experiences in similar situations caution that OU could be a dangerous team.

“Sometimes you can catch another team’s really good effort in those particular times,” Self said. “I know when I was (an assistant) at Oklahoma State and we weren’t very good, we lived for moments like that. So I would think that Oklahoma will give us a great effort (and) play with a free mind and with great energy, which they should. I think they would do that regardless, but, certainly, in a situation where they’ve gotten off to kind of a tough start, I’m sure Lon’s telling ’em, ‘Hey what do we got to lose. Let’s just go out and play and have fun and like each other and play together.’”

Kansas junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who has started the past five games for Kansas, including both true road contests, said the team was bracing for a tougher challenge than many might be expecting.

“Energy’s always important, especially in road games because it’s their crowd and their home and it’s always hard to play in front of other peoples’ crowd,” Mykhailiuk said before Monday’s practice. “We know they’re struggling this year, but they’re pretty talented, coming off a Final Four from last year and they’re playing at home. It’s going to be a tough game for us. We know that they’re gonna give us their best shot.”

Self, who said matching OU’s energy, especially early, would be important for Kansas but added that he would not know for sure where his squad measured on the intensity meter until well after tip-off.

“In the locker room, you can tell sometimes,” Self said. “But sometimes you think you know and they disappoint you. And sometimes you think you’re gonna be disappointed and they surprise you. I think it’s a pretty inexact thing.”

Jayhawks jump to 2nd

Thanks to Villanova's loss to Butler last week, the Big 12 Conference now owns the top two teams in both major polls, with unbeaten Baylor ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and coaches polls and Kansas climbing up a spot to No. 2 in the AP Poll right behind them.

The Jayhawks (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12) received eight first-place votes in the latest AP Poll released Monday, with Baylor (15-0) getting 55 and Villanova (15-1) getting one and falling to third.

“It doesn’t surprise me," Self said of Baylor entering the top spot for the first time in school history. "They deserve it more than anybody else. They’ve played, and won, the hardest games of everybody (on the) non-conference schedule in America. That certainly doesn’t surprise me, nor disappoint me, nor should it.

“We had our chance, probably, to be No. 1 but we didn’t have a great week last week or the week before. We were just average and I think the voters, based on what they’ve seen, probably got it right.”

Jackson honored again

For the third time this season, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors, the conference announced Monday.

Jackson, who also has a Big 12 Player of the Week Award on his résumé, averaged 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ home victories over rival Kansas State and Texas Tech this past week.

A 6-foot-8 freshman from Detroit, Jackson shot 53.3 percent from the field, and contributed seven assists, four blocks and three steals, as KU improved to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in league play.

A 22-point effort against K-State marked Jackson’s third game of 20-plus points this season.

The star Kansas freshman also earned Newcomer of the Week twice in November.