University of Kansas

Kansas State ‘in driver’s seat’ in Big 12 men’s basketball race, KU’s Bill Self says

KU forward Mitch Lightfoot previews Texas Tech game; how Jayhawks can keep Big 12 streak alive

The Kansas Jayhawks basketball team goes on the road this weekend and KU forward Mitch Lightfoot previews the Texas Tech game and talks about how the Jayhawks can keep the Big 12 streak alive.
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The Kansas Jayhawks basketball team goes on the road this weekend and KU forward Mitch Lightfoot previews the Texas Tech game and talks about how the Jayhawks can keep the Big 12 streak alive.

Six of 10 Big 12 Conference men’s basketball teams are within three games of first place entering the final two and a half weeks of the regular season.

“I think it is crazy,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the league race Thursday during his weekly news conference at Allen Fieldhouse.

Self is somewhat of an expert on it what takes to win the league, considering his Jayhawks have claimed an NCAA-record 14 consecutive Big 12 titles.

“K-State is still way in the driver’s seat right now. They deserve to be,” Self said of the Wildcats, who enter the weekend 10-3 in conference play — one game ahead of KU and Texas Tech (9-4), teams that happen to be playing at 7 p.m. Saturday, in Lubbock, Texas. Iowa State and Baylor are two games back at 8-5 and Texas sits three back at 7-6.

KU figures to know a bit more about its chances of winning another league crown by 10:30 p.m. Monday. The Jayhawks will meet K-State at 8 p.m. Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, capping a wild three days.

“This is obviously one of the biggest games we’ve had in the regular season for a while and will probably be the biggest game of our season until Monday,” Self said of the game between the No. 12 Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4) and No. 14 Red Raiders (21-5, 9-4). “Obviously that 48 hours will be really important to our program and this particular team.”

Self said Baylor’s win at Iowa State on Tuesday made things in the conference “even crazier. It was a tremendous win. What it does is put five teams in the mix that basically have a shot.”

Self said that even though KU’s streak of 14 straight titles may be in jeopardy, he hasn’t approached that topic with his players.

“I have not brought that up one time, not one time this year. We have, with more experienced teams, brought it up (in the past),” Self said.

"I think it's crazy," Bill Self said Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 while talking about the crowded race for the Big 12 basketball regular-season title. KU is one of five teams with a shot at winning it, as we head into the final two weeks of play.

“I think all that would do is add some pressure to them. Injuries are never excuses. They are not. Let’s not go into that, but I think our young kids (four freshman starters the past three games) are doing pretty well considering who we are not playing with (Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett because of injury; Lagerald Vick due to a leave of absence; and Silvio De Sousa, because of NCAA ineligibility). There’s no reason to add any more pressure to what they’re doing.”

The Jayhawks last played on Saturday at home (a 78-53 victory over West Virginia), then had a day off Sunday, followed by practice Monday and Tuesday. There was a film session Wednesday, then the resumption of practice Thursday.

“In general, it is going to be a crazy 48 hours,” Self said. “We play Saturday at 7 p.m., get home at 2 in the morning or whenever. We get to practice 30 minutes (Sunday) for the first-place team in our league, a team that’s already beaten you (74-67, Feb. 5 in Manhattan).

“It’s going to be wild, but that’s OK. I mean, heck, that’s life. I’d rather be in situations like this than not in situations like this. It’ll be a tough test. We totally respect what happens on Monday (vs. KSU), but I hadn’t thought about that game and won’t until after Saturday’s game.”

The KU Jayhawks are preparing for the most important 48 hours of the basketball season, when they play Texas Tech on the road Saturday night, Feb. 23, 2019, and then host rival Kansas State on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Garrett to suit up Saturday

Self said sophomore guard Garrett, who has missed the last five games because of a high left ankle sprain, will be available for Saturday’s game at Tech.

Garrett practiced 50 percent of the time Monday and went through 80 percent of Tuesday’s workout, Self said.

“It’s hard for him to explode off his left ankle,” Self said, adding, “I can tell you right now my decision is he’s going to be available. Whether I play him or not I don’t know. It’ll be a game-time decision on his usage, but it won’t be a game-time decision on whether he suits up. At least that’s the way I see it now.”

During his weekly press conference Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, KU basketball coach Bill Self updated the media on the playing status of Jayhawks guard Marcus Garrett, who has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain.

“Some guys play off two feet,” Self added. “Some guys play off one. He’s a one-foot player and it’s his left foot. Him being able to play off that will be a determining sign. As of yesterday he could not.”

Vick still on leave

There’s no change in the status of Vick, who has missed three straight games while taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

“There’s no news to report on that front,” Self said of Vick, who remains in his hometown of Memphis.

On Feb. 7, Self said: “Lagerald has some personal matters that require his immediate attention and he will be taking a leave of absence from our team. During this time, we will respect Lagerald’s privacy. There is no timetable for his return.”

Vick’s mom, La La Vick, said Feb. 7 her son would be returning to his home in Memphis to help out with family issues.

Self on Williamson injury

Self was on the road recruiting Wednesday night and thus didn’t see tape of Zion Williamson’s shoe breaking apart and causing a knee injury in the Duke Blue Devils’ loss to North Carolina.

“My hope for him, because he is a terrific young guy, is that he be healthy and be able to continue (the rest of the season), because he is great for college basketball,” Self said.

Self added: “I’ve never seen that before (shoe exploding). I don’t know if anybody’s ever seen that before. That was a freakish and ‘flukeish’ thing. Nobody wishes that on anybody.”

Self reportedly was in Utah on Tuesday night recruiting Tristan Enaruna, a 6-7 senior forward from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah. He’s the No. 105-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2019, according to Rivals.com.

Precious Achiuwa, a 6-9 senior forward from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, will visit Kansas Sunday through Tuesday, according to Rivals.com. He’s the No. 16-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2019, according to Rivals.com.

Doke won’t play this season

Self was asked about the injured Azubuike wearing warmups instead of shirt and jeans at last Saturday’s home game versus West Virginia. There had been some rumors Azubuike might make a rapid recovery from hand surgery and be able to return this season.

“I would say it (the reason for wearing warmups) is probably laundry,” Self said. “Somebody asked me the other day: ‘He’ll make a comeback won’t he, this year?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He’s out until June. He is out. I guess there’s probably some laziness, not getting his laundry done, I don’t know. But there’s nothing to that concerning playing at all.”

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Gary Bedore covers all aspects of Kansas basketball for The Star — the current team as well as former players and coaches and recruiting. He attended KU and was born and raised in Chicago, as well as Lisle, Ill.

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