While Alumni Association staff busily prepared for Friday’s 8 a.m. pregame rally on the second floor of the convention center in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, the KU men’s basketball team met with the media and went through a public shoot-around practice in advance of Friday’s 11:15 a.m. NCAA Tournament opener against New Mexico State.
The second-seeded Jayhawks (26-8) say the memories of last year’s opening weekend exit after suffering an upset by Stanford remains fresh in their minds.
“Last year went by way too fast,” said sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. “Just like that we were done. This year we’re trying to take a different approach, focusing in on the little details.”
Coach Bill Self said junior forward Perry Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, “looks a lot better than last week.” Ellis sustained a knee injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season, March 3 against West Virginia, and missed two games before returning for the Big 12 Tournament’s semifinal and championship games.
“He’s been terrific,” Self said of Ellis’ performance in practice this week. “He hasn’t winced once, and hasn’t had to come out. … I think he’s going to play great.”
The Aggies of New Mexico State (26-8), a No. 15 seed, have won 13 straight games, including an 80-61 victory over Seattle University in the WAC championship game. The tournament title followed a regular-season conference championship for the Aggies, who are known for a tough zone defense with varied looks.
Self said he expected the experienced Aggies, with three seniors in the starting lineup, to enter Friday’s game with “an unbelievable sense of urgency.”
As for his own team, Self said that unlike last season, when the Jayhawks “were a team in flux” entering the NCAA Tournament, he and his club are eliminating distractions. Despite inconsistencies across the season and even within games, Self has high hopes for his team’s performance.
“My expectation,” Self said, “is that we are going to play our best ball.”
Watch our slideshow below to see a few pictures from Thursday’s open practice. Photos by Dan Storey and Chris Lazzarino.