LAWRENCE — When Tarik Black woke up Wednesday morning, it all began to feel real. He had been working on a class paper all Tuesday night — homework that kept his mind occupied and calm — but he knew the emotions were coming.
He was about to run through the tunnel at Allen Fieldhouse one last time. .
Andrew Wiggins knew the end was coming, too. After 18 games in the fieldhouse, here was the last. But maybe freshman minds aren’t as fully versed in emotional reflection. Wiggins felt it, but he didn’t know what it meant.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Wiggins said. “Just how quick everything went by.”
It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and like usual, that meant things went to script. No. 8 Kansas ran roughshod over Texas Tech 82-57, and Black played his most perfect game as a Jayhawk.
A senior graduate transfer from Memphis, Black finished with 19 points on 9-of-9 shooting. He tied the Kansas record — shared by C.J. Giles and Mark Randall — for most field goals made without a miss.
“Things just start functioning,” Black said, an analytical mind thinking about his game. “Things just start working.”
It was senior night, but in a way, it was also a night for freshmen. Kansas coach Bill Self didn’t want to admit that earlier this week — not explicitly — but it was true.
So in the moments after the victory, after the Jayhawks (23-7, 14-3 Big 12) had busted out the Big 12 championship T-shirts and displayed all 10 championship trophies on a long table at midcourt, Self grabbed a microphone and started looking toward his team on the baseline.
Self took a moment to look toward Wiggins and freshman center Joel Embiid, who was decked in a suit while shut down for the rest of the regular season with a lower-back strain.
“Wiggins!” Self shouted. “Stand up!”
“Jo,” Self said, looking toward Embiid, hiding near the corner of the court. “Stand up!”
One by one, Self kept naming players, not stopping at the potential one-and-dones on the roster. Wayne Selden. Perry Ellis. Jamari Traylor.
“Stand up,” Self said again.
One year ago, Wiggins sat behind the KU bench during another senior night dismantling of Texas Tech. His parents, Mitchell and Marita, were sitting by his side. He noticed how the KU fans stayed all night, through the speeches and everything. Even the little kids, he says. So on Wednesday, the Wiggins family was back in the building. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the turbo-charged life cycle of college basketball. One year, you’re on your recruiting visit, the next you’re scoring nine points in 23 minutes while another set of teammates go through the senior night ceremony.
“Too quick,” Wiggins said. “I wish I had more time to stay here and do my thing and just be with the team and the coaches and all these wonderful fans.
“Last year, that’s one of the reasons I committed here. I came on senior night. And the fans were just so loyal.”
Wiggins didn’t shy away about this being his last game in Allen Fieldhouse, and neither did Self. But if the end is coming for Black and Wiggins, Wednesday was a decent springboard toward the postseason.
The Jayhawks will conclude the regular season on Saturday at West Virginia before heading to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City next week. And as top teams across the country continue to fall — Syracuse on Tuesday, Duke on Wednesday — the door keeps cracking wider for Kansas to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney for the sixth time in eight years. Maybe it’s something to play for over the last week of the season, but Self doesn’t quite see it that way.
The NCAA Tournament is about matchups and momentum, Self says, and being a No. 1 seed can be more about ego than anything.
“I just want us to have as much momentum and be as healthy as we possibly can,” Self said, “regardless of seed.”
Oh yes, health. Embiid is feeling better, Self said, but it’s too early to know how he’ll be feeling next week. The Jayhawks will re-evulate on Sunday and he could be back for the Big 12 Tournament. If not then, he should be plenty fresh for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. But if the worst-case scenario were to surface — if the back problems sabotage the rest of Embiid’s year — the Jayhawks got another look at life without him.
Not too bad, either.
Kansas’ three other frontcourt regulars — Black, Ellis and Traylor — combined to score 38 points while going 15 of 15 from the floor. This is why he came to Kansas, Black says. He wanted to win — and win big. So during an 11-minute senior speech after the game, Black recalled his phone conversations with Self last year during the recruiting process.
“You know you’re getting recruited by Kansas,” Black said, “when you get that text or call from Coach Self, like, ‘Hey stud.’ ”
Black laughed. The crowd laughed. Self cracked a wide smile on the sideline. For another year, this night had gone to script. Now the Jayhawks could celebrate a 10th straight Big 12 title — and look forward.
“We have one more month,” Black said, “to put it all together.”