Kansas volleyball coach Ray Bechard used only one timeout Thursday, calling it late in the second set when he sensed his players needed to refocus.
It ended up being a wise move. The Jayhawks took the next three points — with the final kill coming from Jada Burse — to clinch the important second set on their way to a 25-19, 25-21, 25-17 victory over Samford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at Horejsi Center.
“I just thought at that point, we were disinterested,” Bechard said. “We didn’t look like we were totally engaged.”
Bechard told his players at that moment to compete like they wanted to advance in the NCAA Tournament while also repeating a team mantra: “Play Kansas volleyball.”
Never miss a local story.
That was enough to get KU out of its mini-funk.
“I thought when we needed to step it up at key times, we did,” Bechard said. “But that level will have to be consistent tomorrow night to have the type of result we want.”
KU, now 27-2, will take on Creighton at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Horejsi. The Bluejays, 27-6, defeated Northern Iowa, 3-2, on Thursday to advance to the round of 32.
KU previously beat Creighton, 3-2, in Omaha, Neb., on Sept. 8. The Jayhawks also defeated the Bluejays, 3-1, in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I just think we need to play well on our side and keep the energy up,” KU outside hitter Madison Rigdon said, “because they definitely bring a lot of energy.”
Fifth-overall-seeded KU didn’t have it easy Thursday. After two sets, the two teams played to a near statistical draw, with Samford actually leading KU in both kills and attack percentage.
The Jayhawks gained an advantage serving, though. KU had five aces to Samford’s one, with the Bulldogs also posting nine service errors.
Burse also elevated her play at the perfect time. The freshman, who didn’t get into some matches earlier this season, led KU with 14 kills.
“I think the light came on for her about six weeks ago when she said, ‘I belong out here. I’m a good enough volleyball player,’” Bechard said. “That was obviously a great NCAA debut for her.”
The postgame press conference had some entertaining moments, the most interesting of which coming when Samford coach Keylor Chan was asked if it was difficult finding KU weaknesses heading into the match.
“No, they definitely have them. They do,” Chan said. “As they move on in the tournament, they’re going to get exposed, and I think we did the best we could with what we had. But I think that they have some serve reception issues, and I think they have some middle-hitter issues that will be pretty glaring when they get to some teams that can really exploit them.
“Kansas is very talented. They very much are. But they definitely have some things you can pick on, and we just couldn’t do it well enough tonight.”
KU, which has won 15 straight, will face a Creighton team that is on a 21-match streak.
“I just think our team will understand that tomorrow night is a big-time opponent,” Bechard said. “It will be very similar to some of the better teams we’ve played in Big 12. We’ll be ready.”
Jesse Newell: @jessenewell