No. 13 Kansas eyes UTEP game as tune-up for bigger things

NCAA Basketball

No. 13 Kansas bounced back from a rough January to go 7-2 in February, capped by handing Big 12 champion Baylor its only defeat.

So will that stand as the season’s high point, or just a big step along the way to greater heights for the resurgent Jayhawks (18-8)?

“We’re not done. We’re not done at all,” insisted Marcus Garrett during his Senior Night speech. “We want a long season here.”

In one way, Kansas will get that wish. By becoming the only Big 12 team to complete its schedule on time, the Jayhawks lengthened their regular season by adding a Thursday matchup against UTEP (12-10) at Lawrence, Kan.

The Jayhawks’ resolve following a 3-5 run in January, which ended a record string of appearances in the Top 25, has been impressive. Fast forward to March and Kansas finished 12-6 in the Big 12 while improving its NCAA Tournament stock by beating a team projected as a No. 1 seed.

“It’s not going to get you a ring on your finger or anything like that, but (Baylor is) a big win,” coach Bill Self said. “The players have handled everything great. We did hit the bump in the road in January.

“We went through that period of time where we played with no energy and were duds. Somehow, they kind of responded and got their legs back, and we’ve been pretty good since.”

Self weighed potential health risks, then opted to add the UTEP game on a week that finds the remainder of the Big 12 playing makeup games against conference rivals.

The Jayhawks could be the freshest participant in next week’s Big 12 tournament, where they will try to add to credentials that could attract a strong NCAA seeding.

David McCormack continues to be the contributor Kansas plays through.

He scored the Jayhawks’ first eight points against Baylor and finished with 20 on 8-for-10 shooting. McCormack remained energized late in the game, sending a message with an emphatic block that underscores the determination Kansas has regained.

“Exclamation point was my stare down, telling him to get out of here. I mean, nothing was coming easy (for Baylor), even at the end of the game,” McCormack said.

Even more impressive was the defensive intensity the Jayhawks administered in holding another Baylor standout, Jared Butler, to five points.

“We weren’t good defensively; we were terrific,” Self said.

McCormack averages 13.2 points to rank second among the balanced Jayhawks behind Ochai Agbaji (13.5).

UTEP is coming off back-to-back victories against Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday. After generating a 24-0 advantage in points off turnovers in a 70-47 romp, the Miners overcame an inefficient first half to claim a 77-62 triumph one day later.

“We came out in the second half with really good energy and great activity,” said UTEP coach Rodney Terry, a former Texas and Baylor assistant.

Souley Boum netted six 3-pointers as part of a 23-point effort Sunday and leads the Miners with an 18.7-point average. Bryson Williams chips in 14.8 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds, and will be coming off his fourth double-double after posting 23 points and 14 boards against Charlotte.

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss

Community Calendar