Former Kansas men’s basketball players Sherron Collins and Jamari Traylor made a special trip from the stands into the Jayhawks’ locker room after Tuesday’s 78-52 victory over UTEP at T-Mobile Center.
The purpose for their quick visit was not just to say “good game” after KU rolled to a 42-21 halftime margin en route to the Jayhawks’ third straight victory and seventh of the season in eight tries.
“They were talking about how much it means to them,” KU senior guard Ochai Agbaji said, referring not to his scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting against the Miners, but what’s up next: Saturday’s resumption of the Border War versus the 5-4 Missouri Tigers at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. Tipoff is 2:15 p.m.
“We know it means a lot to the alumni, the whole program, both universities. It’s a big game.”
Agbaji, an Oak Park High graduate, who moved from Milwaukee to Kansas City as a youngster, said he knows all he needs to know about KU-Mizzou.
“I just know they both hate each other, so ….” he said, predicting, “it should be a really fun game. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
KU junior guard Christian Braun, who Tuesday scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting against the Miners (4-4) of Conference USA, said, “Yeah,” when asked if it was tough to not look past Tuesday’s contest with Saturday’s game on the horizon. KU and MU last played in the 2011-12 season.
“I mean obviously there’s people camping. You walk through the fieldhouse to practice and people are already camping for the game,” said Blue Valley Northwest grad Braun, who grabbed six rebounds versus the Miners. KU won the rebounding battle, 40-29.
“That’s exciting, but we had to focus on this game. The first thing everybody said in the tunnel (after the contest) was who we’ve got next.”
Braun figured honesty is the best policy when asked by a reporter if now he could start looking forward to the KU-MU game.
“I was looking forward to it before to be real honest with you. I’m excited. I know all the guys are excited,” Braun said.
KU coach Bill Self was concerned enough about his team perhaps looking past UTEP that he brought up the subject of Saturday’s game in his pregame talk.
“I didn’t think it was a trap game but a game in which the guys are … Monday morning we left to come over here — the guys showed up (at fieldhouse) at noon to lift — and there were well over 100 camping groups already, which means over 2,000 students are already waiting there since Monday morning to go to the game,” Self said of KU-MU.
“That number will go to 150 or 200 (groups). We are telling them (players) how important this game is (and) they are thinking about what is getting ready to happen on Saturday. I think they handled it OK. They are excited for Saturday. I’m sure Mizzou is as well.”
The Tigers beat Eastern Illinois 72-44 on Tuesday in Columbia.
Asked what to expect Saturday, Self said Tuesday: “I think it’s going to be pretty good. I assume there won’t be a lot of empty seats. It’s the best game on our schedule. You can talk about Kentucky, Baylor or Texas, this is the best game on our schedule at least from a fan participation or player participation (standpoint). We haven’t played them in nine years. Back when we did play ‘em it was the best game on our schedule.”
Of the last game played in the series, KU’s 87-86 overtime win over Mizzou on Feb. 25, 2012 in Alen Fieldhouse, Self said: “It was probably the most emotional home game I’ve ever been part of there. There was pressure on us to win that game. We didn’t handle it very well (in falling behind by 19 points to Tigers). When the lid came off we played pretty well down the stretch. That was college basketball at its best. The OU game at home, three overtimes (KU’s 109-106 win on Jan. 5, 2016) … I don’t know if there’s another game like those. Those two were the best games.”
On Tuesday, starting KU guard Remy Martin did not score in 23 minutes (0-for-4 shooting), while reserve forward Jalen Wilson had seven rebounds and just three points in 22 minutes. Starting guard Dajuan Harris had six assists, four steals and no points in 30 minutes. … Self said senior David McCormack was limited the second half after “tweaking” an ankle. Self said it was not believed to be a serious injury. McCormack had eight points and three boards in 17 minutes. … KU hit 6 of 20 threes; UTEP hit 3 of 23.