LAWRENCE — Something pretty funny happened inside Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night, something that only seems to happen in the one-and-done, freshman-infused world of college basketball.
Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden were sitting in front of a collection of microphones and cameras, and everyone wanted to know about Bramlage Coliseum, the doom-filled home of in-state rival Kansas State. In two days, the Jayhawks would be making the trip down I-70 for another round of the Sunflower Showdown, and the question was quite simple: Were the Jayhawks ready for Bramlage?
No matter that Selden and Wiggins have never played in the so-called Octagon of Doom. Not matter that theyve been aware of the rivalry for well, about six months.
I feel like we go in expecting the worst, Selden said. Expecting a hostile environment, expecting to not get any calls, expecting things to not go our way but battling through it.
If Kansas freshmen have limited knowledge of Bramlage Coliseum or the specific geography of Manhattan how long is this drive going to be again? thats fine with KU coach Bill Self. In the moments after the Jayhawks 86-60 demolition against Kansas State on Jan. 11, Wiggins had mentioned KUs all-time record against K-State:
What are we, up 186-91 now? Wiggins asked, a little naiveté in his voice.
Wiggins was actually one victory off its actually 187-91 but Self wouldnt mind if the Jayhawks forgot all about history. The all-time record doesnt matter, Self says, nor does the fact that the Jayhawks have won 48 of 51 against K-State. Same goes for KUs 28-2 record in Manhattan over the last 30 years, or last months 26-point blowout.
If our guys think that the past score has something to do with (this) game, Self warned, then well get beat.
In the hour after the Jayhawks victory over West Virginia on Saturday, the news of K-States romp over Texas had filtered through Allen Fieldhouse. Self hadnt seen the tape yet, but hed heard the score. So had most of the Jayhawks.
In one sense, it was welcome news. Kansas (18-5 and 9-1 in the Big 12) had opened up a two-game lead over Texas in the conference race. If the Jayhawks hold serve at home for the rest of the season, they may just strut to a 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title. Not that Self is ready to admit that publically.
The league race is still open, Self cautioned. I think everybody has got 10 games left. Were in a favorable position with a two-game lead, but we go to Manhattan, and if you dont play well, you got a one-game lead.
In other ways, though, K-States continued dominance of Texas had placed Kansas on high alert. It was, after all, just seven days ago that the Jayhawks had been beaten up by that same Texas team in Austin.
Theyre coming off a hot win (against) a great team in Texas, KU sophomore forward Jamari Traylor said, and Im sure they should be pretty confident.
In the locker room on Saturday, Self gave his team a quick primer on what awaited in Manhattan. More knowledge would come on Sunday, but Traylor has already experienced a night inside Bramlage. It can be deafening and angry, and theres that traditional blaring of the techno song Sandstorm from the loudspeakers. If you havent been in the building, theres no way to simulate a building full of purple getting lathered up over a song by Finnish DJ Darude.
Manhattan is pretty loud, and they got probably more crazy fans, Traylor said. Theyre not shy about what they yell at you.
Traylor said the Jayhawks veterans would try to warn the newcomers, but sometimes its just something you need to experience for yourself. In last months victory, freshman center Joel Embiid had been ejected after hitting K-States Nino Williams with a shot to the face in the second half. If the K-State fans have something special planned for Embiid, he didnt seem overly concerned.
I dont really care, Embiid said. Im just going to play basketball and try to get the win.
Weve been war-tested, Black added. Weve been tested very well up to this point. Its very personal, its an in-state rivalry and probably will be one of our best games, but at the same time, weve been in some pretty hostile situations.
So here it is, round two. Last month, the Jayhawks overwhelmed K-State with its size inside, and Wiggins held K-State leading scorer Marcus Foster to just three-of-12 shooting. And one month later, Self says, history doesnt matter.
We know it will be a totally different game over there with the energy they get from their fans, Self said. But itll be a great test for our young kids to go over there and see how tough we are.