Quick Turnaround for KU

Sasha Kaun (Steve Puppe photo)

Kansas didn't have much time to celebrate its third straight Big 12 Tournament Championship. Shortly after beating Texas at the Sprint Center and before the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced, Sasha Kaun was already looking ahead to the Big Dance.

“It feels great (to win the tournament), but I don’t want to get settled,” the senior center said in the locker room. “We got bigger goals. We want to win a national championship.”

The Jayhawks’ road to the Final Four and national title begins in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday, when No. 1 seed KU (31-3) will face No. 16 Portland State (23-9, 14-2 in Big Sky) at 11:25 (CST). The Vikings won the Big Sky Conference regular season championship and postseason league tournament.

If KU beats Portland State, the Jayhawks will face the winner of No. 8 UNLV and No. 9 Kent State at approximately 5:50 p.m. (CST) on Saturday.

“You have two very good teams (that) I haven’t had a chance to see play a lot, but I’ve seen enough of Vegas to know how good they are,” KU coach Bill Self said. “And everybody tells me Kent State is terrific.”

Of course, Self is most concerned now with Portland State, which is making its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. On the flip side, this is KU’s 37th time in the NCAA’s and 19th straight appearance. The Jayhawks enter the tournament as a No. 1 seed for the eighth time since seeding began.

As KU found out its NCAA destination on Selection Sunday after beating Texas, Self stood outside the Jayhawk locker room and spoke to a horde of reporters. A logo on the floor next to him said: “The Road To The Final Four Begins Here.”

For Self and the Jayhawks, they hope their road culminates in San Antonio on April 7 after winning the national title. However, he was just concerned at the moment with getting some rest.

“We have one less today to prepare and we got to get our batteries recharged, because this tournament took a lot out of us,” Self said.

With a day off on Monday, KU will practice Tuesday in preparation for its matchup with Portland State.

“We got one day of practice before we play,” Self said. “We’re not going to change who we are. They may throw in a wrinkle or two because they’ve had a little bit more time (to prepare).”

Self was thrilled to see six teams from the Big 12 make the NCAA Tournament. In addition to KU, Texas, K-State, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas A&M are all heading into madness. The Wildcats are a No. 11 seed and are actually in the same Midwest Regional and Omaha bracket as Kansas. K-State will face No. 6 seed USC on Thursday.

“I was surprised, but happy (that the Big 12 got six teams in the tournament),” Self said. “It turned out great. And then you have Lon Kruger there (former K-State head coach and current coach of UNLV). I think they want all the K-State fans to cheer against us if we’re fortunate to play them.

“I think the story line on (KSU-USC) is not (Michael) Beasley versus O.J. (Mayo), the story line will be (Bill) Walker versus O.J. (Walker and Mayo were high school teammates). That will definitely take a lot of the local distractions off of us, because you guys (reporters) will be chasing all those sidebars.”

Like Self, senior guard Russell Robinson was excited that six Big 12 teams made the tourney.

“It just shows how good a conference we have,” Robinson said.

And now the Jayhawks want to show how good they are.

“This tournament is what we look forward to all year,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t use the word fun. It’s a little stressful, but it’s good stress. We’re going to enjoy this. ... In order to be a great team, you got to win championships. We got one today, we just got to get one more.” 

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