Not the norm
KU coach Bill Self says the Hilltoppers aren’t like most of the teams that the Jayhawks play.
“A little unconventional,” he said. “Most of the teams we play have low post plays, whereas theirs is a guy that can stretch it.”
That would be Aleksejs Rostov, the Hilltoppers’ 6-foot-10 freshman from Latvia. In typical European tradition, he likes to get outside and shoot.
“They’re quick on the perimeter,” Self added. “They’ve got different guys who can stretch it. They’re very scrappy.
“They’re a fun team to watch play, at least on tape.”
Western Kentucky likes to shoot the three. The Hilltoppers have launched 689 this year, hitting 32.4 percent. Three players have taken more than 100 threes, led by T.J. Price’s 218.
In fact, more than half of Price’s shots have been beyond the arc. He’s hitting 36.2 percent of his threes and 40 percent for all field goals.
The Jayhawks have put up 558 three pointers and hit 36.7 percent. Ben McLemore (158) and Elijah Johnson (148) are the only KU players to shoot more than 100 this season, although Naadir Tharpe is at 97.
The Jayhawks have a definite size advantage – starting, of course, with 7-foot Jeff Withey. But he’s only one four players over 6-8, and Kevin Young plays taller than his 6-7.
Besides Rostov, the Hilltoppers don’t have much size. No one else is over 6-7.
“We’ll try to mix it up on Withey,” Harper said. “Hopefully, we can keep him off balance. The thing is we have to eliminate his easy baskets.”
Used to KC winning
WKU coach Ray Harper said he was reluctant to watch tape of KU this week.
“It was giving me nightmares,” he said.
Harper knows what it’s like to win national titles, though.
He won two NCAA Division II national championships while coaching his alma mater, Kentucky Wesleyan (1999, 2001) and two NAIA national crowns at Oklahoma City (2007, 2008). His two NAIA titles came in Kansas City at Municipal Auditorium.
The Hilltoppers understand that no No. 16 seed has won in the tournament.
“Ah, but you know how seedings go sometimes,” senior guard Jamal Crook said. “You can’t really look at the seeding. You just have to go play.
“We’re looking beyond the seeds. We got Kansas. That’s our focal point.”
Added teammate George Fant: “No disrespect to Kansas or anything, but it’s about the game. They pick who they want to be in certain places and certain seeding. That’s all.”
Topping the Toppers
Tonight will be the fifth meeting for KU and Western Kentucky with the Jayhawks leading the series 3-1. KU’s one loss came in the 1971 Final Four third-place game when the Hilltoppers defeated Ted Owens’ Jayhawks 77-75 in Houston.
KU defeated WKU 75-70 in the 1995 NCAA’s second round in Dayton and beat the Hilltoppers 75-62 in Lawrence in the first round of the preseason NIT.
— Rick Plumlee