The No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks will not play a more emotionally charged nonconference game than they did the last time they stepped on a basketball court – when they renewed their longtime rivalry with Missouri after a 10-year freeze.
But Kansas (8-1) might face stiffer challenges after whipping Missouri 102-65. Stephen F. Austin (8-3), a third-place pick in the preseason WAC poll, will try to provide such a test Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.
For as much hype as the renewal of the Missouri series meant to college basketball, Kansas coach Bill Self always focuses on greater goals that await in conference and postseason play.
“(The Missouri game) wasn’t for a bigger picture,” Self said. “It was just a nonconference game that at the end of the season won’t mean anything except just us playing each other.”
Self did make a noteworthy move by trimming his deep rotation to eight players during a lopsided first half (49-27). His regulars responded with strong performances, including an offensive surge from Dajuan Harris, who has mostly facilitated teammates.
“It was more how I’ll coach in league than the first eight games,” Self said. “We decided if we are playing well, don’t play guys just to try to get them in the game. Play guys (who are) best for your team moving forward.”
Harris stepped up after Missouri left him open on the perimeter, daring the Jayhawks to feed a shooter who had not previously made a 3-pointer. Teammates exhorted Harris to bomb away and he obliged, sinking his first three treys of the season and matching a career-best with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
“They forced me to make shots, and my teammates gave me the confidence that I needed,” Harris said. “I just wanted to make the shot. I’ve been 0-for-8 from 3, so every (opposing defender) is going to be helping in the lane a lot. I just needed to be ready to shoot the ball.”
Those defensive strategies figure to continue, though the Jayhawks have been adept at finding Ochai Agbaji open looks while counting on Christian Braun to sparkle in every phase.
Agbaji averages 22.4 points and shoots a deadly 49.1% from behind the arc. Braun averages 16.3 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds, while ranking among team leaders in assists, steals and blocks.
Kansas has led wire-to-wire in each of its last two games. It will play two more nonconference games — at Colorado and home against Harvard — before opening Big 12 play on Jan. 1 against TCU.
Stephen F. Austin had a four-game winning streak snapped Tuesday in an 82-69 loss to Louisiana-Monroe despite a career-high 28 points by Latrell Jossell, who went 9 of 13 and exceeded his season scoring average by 20 points.
Gavin Kensmil leads the Lumberjacks in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (7.3). David Kachelries averages 11.5 points and a team-high 4.6 assists.
SFA coach Kyle Keller, who is in his sixth season, worked as a Kansas assistant under Self from 2008 to 2011.
“I am excited to see some great friends,” Keller told The Kansas City Star. “I’d prefer to do it after I retired and came back to watch some games then. I am not excited about playing Coach’s team. That’s not a lot of fun for me. I wish our team was healthy. I wish our team was in the right frame of mind coming off a victory instead of a loss.”
–Field Level Media