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KU in midst of ‘big week,’ preparing for Texas

Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis made it clear at his weekly press conference the amount of respect he has for Texas — the Jayhawks’ (2-1) first Big 12 opponent of the 2014 season.

Weis had plenty of KU-related topics to discuss, though, too. The third-year coach touched on all three facets of the game while meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon.

On upcoming 3 p.m. Saturday kickoff vs. Texas (1-2): “Obviously this is a big week for our program,” Weis said. KU has so many Texas natives, and it’s homecoming. “We’re gonna have to play really, really well to have a chance.”

• Weis knows former Longhorns coach Mack Brown well, but he won’t be reaching out for inside tips. “I had a couple of humorous texts with Mack this week on that subject,” the KU coach said. Weis wouldn’t make that call; he would gladly take Brown’s call. Weis wouldn’t want to put Brown on the spot.

Kansas offensive lineman Damon Martin, left, works with other offensive lineman during drills at a KU football practice Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Damon Martin, left, works with other offensive lineman during drills at a KU football practice Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

• Junior RT Damon Martin has a couple of tests today regarding his health. Senior RG Mike Smithburg (appendectomy last week) will see the doctor tomorrow. Neither played on Saturday vs. CMU. KU could have neither/one/both this weekend. Weis doesn’t know yet. He would love to have at least one of them back.

• Redshirt-freshman O-lineman Joe Gibson has been sick and hasn’t practiced in a couple of weeks. So true freshman Jacob Bragg is listed at No. 2 at center this week. But if Weis had to have someone go in for starting center Keyon Haughton, he’d probably go with Bryan Peters. Peters is a “jack of all trades.”

This week, there will be a much different look from the opposing defense when QB Montell Cozart drops back to survey the field. Those easy throws, there won’t be as many of them as there were last week. Weis feels as if KU has some good answers for that problem, though.

Duke defenders Kyler Brown (56) and David Helton (47) stay hot on the trail of Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke defenders Kyler Brown (56) and David Helton (47) stay hot on the trail of Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. by Nick Krug

Teaching pocket presence is something that can happen. A lot of things with a QB have to come naturally. Over time, Weis anticipates Cozart will become much better in the pocket. Cozart takes his first step backward when pressure comes, and that’s because he is trying to get outside and use his speed.

KU has to work on Cozart’s execution with the option, too. They will be spending more time on that. “There are a lot of things that are new.” Weis thinks Cozart is perfectly capable.

Senior nose guard Tedarian Johnson graded out as one of the best players against Central Michigan. Weis thought it was the best game Johnson has played at KU.

There were fewer issues between Cozart and center Haughton this week on snap exchanges, but there are still things to correct. Obviously, there was a false start called on “everyone but the center” against CMU.

Kansas defenders Jake Love (57) and Victor Simmons can't stop a throw from Duke quarterback Anthony Boone during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

Kansas defenders Jake Love (57) and Victor Simmons can't stop a throw from Duke quarterback Anthony Boone during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. by Nick Krug

Junior weak-side linebacker Jake Love has great instincts, which showed up when he got a clean look on a blitz vs. CMU, sniffed out the play and got to the screen pass for a loss. “If you smell a rat, it’s a rat,” Weis said the coaches like to say.

KU won’t back off on the physical practice approach that the team used last week. It’s never going backward. It’s only going forward. KU doesn’t have a really deep roster, so there is a chance guys can get banged up when you hit hard in practices. But if they don’t go hard Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they won’t be ready on Saturdays.

Junior receiver Tre’ Parmalee had probably the best preseason camp of anyone on the team and then banged up his elbow. Now he’s back and ready to go, so he is on the depth chart. Those freshmen receivers aren’t even in the same breath as junior receiver Parmalee right now.

Texas, after scouting KU’s first two games, probably feels pretty good about rolling into Lawrence for the start of Big 12 play. … Weis expects a close game around halftime, and then the perspective might change.

KU’s defense, other than the big plays in the Duke game, has looked good. Kansas can’t give up big plays, though. Or have situations where a team rallies like SEMO did in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks, defensively, weren’t perfect vs. CMU, but they ended up only allowing 10 points. KU will have a problem if it gets in a game where the scoring is in the 40s.

Texas has a lot of good, physical players, so facing CMU and its old style the week before could set up well for Kansas.

With this being homecoming, KU will have some former players coming in and they will be on the sideline. A couple of NFL players have bye weeks. … Until the game’s over, it’s all business.

Fans shout "rock chalk" across the stadium after a key Kansas first down during the second half of Kansas' game against Central Michigan Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Fans shout "rock chalk" across the stadium after a key Kansas first down during the second half of Kansas' game against Central Michigan Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

Weis was pleased with the crowd vs. CMU. Would he like 15,000 more? Sure. But the crowd came despite threat of bad weather and supported a team that had struggled the week before. … There is a great forecast for Saturday and the game will be over by 6:30, so Weis is hoping for an even better showing.

On KU’s kicking situation … Sophomore Matthew Wyman is capable of hitting more than 50 percent (4 of 8 this season). If Weis thought freshman kicker John Duvic was capable of outperforming Wyman, Weis would make the change. … There are only a handful of guys that pan out to be front-line kickers. … This past week, the kick Wyman missed (from 35 yards), he had no excuse, and that’s no big secret.

Junior WR Rodriguez Coleman isn’t on the depth chart. So don’t expect to see him play. … Nigel King gives KU the best chance to win, and King is backing up both Tony Pierson and Justin McCay. King is a tough guy, just like McCay.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Weis talks Texas, a 'team in transition'

— Also, hear from KU coordinators Clint Bowen and John Reagan: Bowen and Reagan on the challenges of preparing for Texas

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Getting reacquainted with the Longhorns

Texas head coach Rick Barnes calls a play during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Texas head coach Rick Barnes calls a play during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Three weeks ago, Rick Barnes' Texas basketball team handled Kansas in Austin, Texas, giving the Longhorns their fourth straight win over a top-25 team and catapulting them into the chase for the Big 12 championship.

The Horns' bigs gave the Jayhawks fits, and point guard Isaiah Taylor flew up and down the floor, rarely slowing down.

Today, No. 19 Texas (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) comes to Allen Fieldhouse trying to narrow the gap between first and second place against No. 8 Kansas (20-6, 11-2).

A pair of road setbacks since UT's defeat of Kansas on Feb. 1 kept the Longhorns from gaining any more ground on KU. Here is what Texas has done since knocking off the Jayhawks:

• W at TCU, 59-54

• L at Kansas State, 74-57

• W vs. Oklahoma State, 87-68

• W vs. West Virginia, 88-71

• L at Iowa State, 85-76

That leaves the top half of the Big 12 standings looking like this, heading into Saturday's marquee matchup between the top two teams in the conference:

Kansas, 11-2

Texas, 9-4

Iowa State, 8-5

Oklahoma, 8-5

Kansas State, 8-5

If the Jayhawks earn some redemption for their 81-69 loss at Texas tonight, a 10th straight Big 12 championship becomes even more attainable. If the Longhorns pull off a sweep of KU, the next couple of weeks become very interesting in the Big 12 title chase.

Texas held KU to 38.5% shooting in the first meeting. In the Longhorns' nine conference wins this season, opponents have scored 66.1 points and shot 38.1% from the floor — plus a 29.2% mark from 3-point range.

In their four Big 12 losses, the Longhorns allowed an average of 83.5 points per game on 47.6% shooting.

UT out-rebounds its opponents by an average margin of +8.0 a game, and has won the battle of the boards in 21 of 26 games. The Longhorns got the better of the Jayhawks, 38-33, on Feb. 1.

Now, it's time to get reacquainted with the Longhorns who will try to duplicate that success in tonight's rematch.

Jonathan Holmes, No. 10

6-8, 240, jr. forward

Texas forward Jonathan Holmes turns for a shot over Kansas guard Andrew White during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Texas forward Jonathan Holmes turns for a shot over Kansas guard Andrew White during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 22 points, 6/13 FGs, 1/2 3s, 9/10 FTs, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 0 turnovers, 3 blocks.

The team's most experienced player and a certain leader, Holmes averages 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.

He's one of the most effective scorers in the Big 12, converting 51.2% of his shots, hitting 23 of 60 3-pointers (38.3%) and making 78% of his free throws.

The one thing he doesn't do much of on offense is pass to set up someone else: 16 assists this season vs. 43 turnovers.

He hauled in a UT season-high 16 boards (including six on offense) in the Longhorns' win at TCU on Feb. 4.

Defensively, Holmes is one of three UT players in the top eight in the league in blocked shots. At 6-8, he's eighth, with 1.21 swats a game.

Javan Felix, No. 3

5-11, 195, so. guard

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe chases down a loose ball past Texas guard Javan Felix late in the second half on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe chases down a loose ball past Texas guard Javan Felix late in the second half on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 9 points, 1/6 FGs, 0/2 3s, 7/10 FTs, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 4 fouls in 18 minutes.

The undersized guard scored 16 points and nailed four 3-pointers for the second game in a row in UT's loss to Iowa State this week.

Felix has been on a tear the last three games, averaging 20.3 points on 22-for-52 shooting and 14-for-33 accuracy (42%) from behind the 3-point line.

On the season, he averages 12.8 points and 2.8 assists, but in Big 12 games, the sophomore's scoring numbers have gone up, to 15.5.

Felix leads UT with 44 3-pointers this season, and he attempts 5.3 a game, making 33%. He hit what proved to be a game-winner in the final seconds of overtime at Temple in December.

Isaiah Taylor, No. 1

6-1, 170, fr. guard

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-Y_viRB13c

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 23 points, 7/14 FGs, 1/2 3s, 8/8 FTs, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers.

The speedy freshman was a highlight reel waiting to happen against Kansas in Austin, Texas.

Taylor averages 13.1 points and 3.7 assists on the season, but is coming off another breakout game at Iowa State, where he scored 26 points, and had eight assists, seven rebounds and one turnover.

Taylor has only taken 15 3-pointers this season, but uses his speed to create high-percentage opportunities, and shoots 41.7% from the floor.

His ability to beat his man off the dribble also helps him get to the free-throw line, where he has made 124 of 165 attempts (6.6 trips a game) this season — 75.2%.

In his last seven games, Taylor is averaging 19.1 points and shooting 45.3% from the floor. At the foul line in that stretch he has only missed three of his 50 free throws.

Cameron Ridley, No. 55

6-9, 285, so. center

Texas center Cameron Ridley throws down a dunk before Kansas center Joel Embiid after being fouled during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Texas center Cameron Ridley throws down a dunk before Kansas center Joel Embiid after being fouled during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 9 points, 3/7 FGs, 3/6 FTs, 10 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 4 blocks, 4 fouls in 23 minutes.

The ginormous center delivered one of the most impressive plays of the game against Kansas three weeks ago, nearly tearing down the rim on a dunk as he went past Joel Embiid.

In 25.1 minutes a game this year, Ridley averages 10.8 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds.

Ridley pulls down 3.0 offensive rebounds a game.

His 2.31 blocks are third-best in the Big 12, and he denied four KU shots in the Horns' win at UT.

Demarcus Holland, No. 2

6-2, 185, so. guard

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 4 points, 1/4 FGs, 2/4 FTs, 11 rebounds (5 offensive), 3 assists, 2 steals.

Usually the last offensive option when he is on the floor, Holland still averages 7.8 points a game.

The sophomore has made 40.5% of his shots this season, but struggles from behind the 3-point line, where he has only made 13 of 45 (28.9%).

Those shooting woes carry over to the foul line, too, where Holland is just 41 for 73 (56.2%) on the year.

Still, as a guard he averages 5.0 rebounds and does enough little things that he leads UT in minutes a game this season: 31.12.

Texas bench

Connor Lammert, No. 21

6-9, 235, so. forward

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 7 points, 3/5 FGs, 0/2 3s, 1/2 FTs, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 block in 19 minutes.

Though he comes off the bench, Lammert has scored in double figures four times this season.

The sixth man averages 5.7 points and is third on the team with 5.0 rebounds.

The 6-9 forward stretches opposing defenses occasionally, making 14 of 37 3-pointers this season.

Overall from the floor, Lammert has made 49.6% of his shots.

Prince Ibeh, No. 44

6-10, 250, so. center

Kansas forward Perry Ellis turns for a shot against Texas center Prince Ibeh during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis turns for a shot against Texas center Prince Ibeh during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

— Feb. 1 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/3 FGs, 0/2 FTs, 3 rebounds (all on offense), 1 turnover, 4 blocks, 3 fouls in 17 minutes.

Ibeh didn't play a ton against Kansas, but he proved to be as significant a deterrent to the Jayhawks' offense as anybody in burnt orange, swatting away four KU shot attempts.

The backup big only averages 14.0 minutes a game this season, but contributes 3.7 rebounds and 1.88 blocks (fourth in the Big 12) to go with 4.2 points.

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Bill Self press conference notes: Feb. 20, 2014

Kansas head coach Bill Self rips into point guard Frank Mason after Mason was issued a flagrant foul during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self rips into point guard Frank Mason after Mason was issued a flagrant foul during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

With Saturday's home game against No. 19 Texas coming up, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse to talk about the rematch with the Longhorns, who handled the No. 8 Jayhawks in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 1.

Here are the bullet-point highlights from the Q & A:

• On Texas freshman guard Isaiah Taylor: "I thought he totally controlled the game." Texas had KU on its heels the whole time. The Longhorns' transition offense was better than KU's defense, and the Jayhawks' ball-screen defense wasn't any good at all. KU did a bad job on the boards at Texas, too.

• UT bigs Cameron Ridley and Demarcus Holland gave KU problems. The Jayhawks usually win the battle of the boards in Big 12 play this season. But the one game they didn't "we obviously got whipped" on the glass. That was a big reason why Texas controlled the game.

• On clinching the Big 12 title in the weeks to come: We can't talk about anything past Saturday, because if KU doesn't win against Texas, it's down to a one-game lead, as opposed to a three-game lead. To him, this game isn't even about the league race as much as it is playing a Texas team that smacked the Jayhawks around already.

• February can be a tough time of the year, and part of it is playing teams a second time. Self watched a little of Syracuse's loss to Boston College on Wednesday night. Regardless of what people think, in 35 games or so of basketball, it's hard to be jacked up every game. Emotion plays a big part of your energy level.

When another team gives you your best shot and you're off a little bit, that negates a talent advantage that might be had. Playing a team the second time, it's harder to get easy baskets, players are better scouted. If two teams play the first time and it's a wide margin "I guarantee the second game is always gonna be much narrower." Teams raise their level the second time if they've been handled easily the first time. Top-five teams in the country are laboring to win, especially on the road. It's been that way every year. That's likely what happened with Syracuse.

• KU has been ranked as a top field-goal percentage defense team most of Self year's in Lawrence. This season, the Jayhawks are one of the top offensive field goal percentage teams. KU entered the week No. 1 in the nation in field goal percentage. (Currently, they're at 50.3%.) Self would rather Kansas be good at making it difficult for its opponents to score. No matter what a team's offense is like, there are going to be some nights where it is off, like at Texas Tech. You have to figure out a way to win those games when shots aren't falling.

A lot of times, guys have the sense that it is easy to out-score foes if shots are falling. Defense is a better formula for success over time. You're not always gonna make shots. "Defense always travels."

Self figured this team would be really good defensively and average on offense. It's kind of been the reverse. "And we're still not great, offensively."

KU might not be as bad defensively as he plays it up. In order for KU to be great, Jayhawks have to be great defensively. This team just has different pieces and personalities from teams in the past. Some personalities are more laid back than past intense guys on defense like Thomas Robinson or Travis Releford.

"We're better defensively when we suck offensively."

• Can players get tougher once they arrive at a college program? Coaches can improve on it, but you can't turn a guy into a junk yard dog. You can improve them on a scale — if they're a 5, they can go to an 8. There's room for improvement. It's also a team thing.

• Self would like to see KU's point guards "cut the head off" defensively. Past guards like Tyshawn Taylor, Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers might have been taken for granted. Naadir Tharpe isn't as big as some of those guys, but he and Frank Mason can do a better job of forcing opponents to play poorly offensively.

Self isn't just picking on Tharpe and Mason, that's just kind of the way KU is playing.

• Joel Embiid seems to be fine. Self talked to him this morning. He assumes his back is fine. It's his back that would give him problems, if anything.

• Embiid is about to set the KU freshman blocks record. He's currently tied with Eric Chenowith at 62. He is good, but could be great. There is another step he has to take.

• Naadir Tharpe hasn't shot it great the past week. But he's been a consistent shooter this season and is a good passer, creates shots off penetration. KU needs him to be good for the Jayhawks to be great. Self is pleased with Tharpe, but he would like to see him and others guard the ball better.

• On the Kansas vs Texas series: There have been some really good players and games between the two programs since Self's arrival at Kansas. Hopefully this one will be a classic, too.

• If Kansas isn't good defensively, that's on Self. There's no excuse for not being good on that end.

— Hear full audio from the press conference by clicking here: Bill Self discusses KU's upcoming rematch with Texas

— Listen to Jayhawks freshmen Conner Frankamp and Joel Embiid talk about Saturday's game.

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