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Why KU Jayhawks’ Bill Self was emotional after KJ Adams’ performance in win vs. UConn

KJ Adams has played in some unforgettable games and experienced numerous ear-rattling ovations from the home crowd in his two-plus seasons as a Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball player.

No atmosphere has impressed him more than Friday’s at Allen Fieldhouse, site of the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks’ 69-65 victory over No. 4 UConn, a team that entered the game having won 24 straight nonconference games by double figures — including six in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“Me and Kevin (McCullar, three 3-pointers, 21 points) have seen a lot of games here,” Adams said. “But I think that crowd was just relentless, loud, was into the game the whole 40 minutes.”

Adams scored 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and went 6-of-9 from free-throw the line, with five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 39 minutes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd that engaged for the whole time,” he said. “I think that was amazing. I think we have one of the best crowds in the country.”

The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Adams swished two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to give KU an insurmountable 69-65 advantage. He was fouled and sent to the line after grabbing a defensive rebound on a possible-game winning 3-point attempt by Cam Spencer from the corner with three seconds to play, UConn down, 67-65.

Spencer was 1-of-7 from 3-point range on a night when Huskies guard Tristen Newton hit six 3s in nine tries and finished with 31 points.

Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) celebrates with assistant coach Jeremy Case after the Jayhawks’ 69-65 win over the Connecticut Huskies in an NCAA basketball game on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com
Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) celebrates with assistant coach Jeremy Case after the Jayhawks’ 69-65 win over the Connecticut Huskies in an NCAA basketball game on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

“It was a great night,” KU coach Bill Self said after a game that pushed KU’s record to 7-1. UConn fell to 7-1.

“It was the most fitting way the game could end,” Self said, “with KJ making his last two free throws before going home tonight saying his last goodbye.”

The funeral service for Adams’ mother, Yvonne, is set for Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas. Yvonne Elise Adams, a former star women’s basketball player at Texas A&M, died Nov. 17 following a long bout with cancer.

KJ has not missed a game since his mom’s passing.

Self and members of KU’s coaching staff will attend the funeral. Adams’ teammates will not be attending, Self said, because so many of the Jayhawks players have parents in Lawrence for the entire weekend, not just Friday’s game.

Self gave an emotional address to his players after Friday night’s victory, which was posted to the KU men’s basketball X account.

“Guys, this game belonged to one person, that dude right there,” Self said in the locker room, pointing to Adams.

After a round of applause from the players, Self continued: “Can you imagine the stress he’s been under, and for him to play for you guys (teammates) the way he did tonight, knowing he’s getting on a plane to go say goodbye (to his mom) tomorrow morning at 11 a.m.?

“Wow … stud, stud,” Self exclaimed. “You guys put your arm around that cat. Excuse me for being emotional.”

Self dabbed his eyes dry before continuing.

“Think about this,” the coach said. “When KJ goes through struggles in his life, he can look back and say, ‘There ain’t nothing harder than that (losing his mom while pursuing a college basketball career).’ That’s what winners do. He’s a frickin’ winner.

“The dude is not the best free-throw shooter in the country, but tonight they put that dude on the line because he was shooting it — because it was bigger than a normal free throw. I’m so proud of you guys.”

Self joked with reporters about Adams’ shooting.

“He was turned up playing for a lot more than Kansas tonight. I thought KJ was great,” Self said. “He made his free throws, for the most part. Six-of-9 is like Rick Mount back in the day at Purdue for KJ.”

Mount was known as a great free-throw shooter for the Boilermakers.

“KJ was 4-for-16 coming into the game,” Self added of Adams. “He was great. KJ is so strong he’s hard to screen. He was definitely a problem for them tonight.”

Indeed, UConn coach Dan Hurley praised Adams for his performance. His Huskies also were burned by McCullar, who hit three key 3-pointers in the final six minutes, and Hunter Dickinson, who hit three 3s, scoring 15 points with nine rebounds and four blocks.

“It’s tough (dealing) with Adams,” Hurley said. “He’s a big, strong guy, flies around like a guard. He’s so strong.”

KJ Adams appreciates support after mom’s death

Adams said he has appreciated all the support he’s received following his mother’s passing.

“My teammates have helped me a lot. They’ve been here a lot for me,” Adams said. “Coach has made stuff easy for me. Having Jayhawk nation in my inner circle means a lot. They especially help me in rough times like these.”

Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) shoots a free throw during an NCAA basketball game against the Connecticut Huskies on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com
Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) shoots a free throw during an NCAA basketball game against the Connecticut Huskies on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

McCullar preferred discussing his friend, Adams, more than his own contributions following the marquee victory Friday night.

“We’ve had KJ’s back to the fullest,” McCullar said. “We’ll be at his side through it all.

“Every game, he does so many things to help us win,” McCullar added. “He’s the most versatile player. Fist-pumping, dunking, putting his head on the rim pumps me up, pumps us all up.”

KU will next meet the Kansas City Roos from UMKC at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.