Homecourt advantage in venerable Allen Fieldhouse, one Big 12 basketball venue that is consistently sold out, has never meant more to Kansas.
If the Jayhawks are to extend a 14-year streak of conference championships, they cannot stumble at home.
Even then, the support they receive in a noisy limestone barn that opened in 1955 can only be tapped for half of the Big 12 schedule. Playing at home should help Saturday when Oklahoma State (9-13, 2-7 Big 12) visits No. 13 Kansas (17-6, 6-4), but a woeful 1-6 mark on the road factors into the 7-6 run the Jayhawks have managed since late December, while steadily falling in the polls.
“It’s leadership, it’s toughness, it’s inexperience,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, the Jayhawks’ top defender, missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Junior center Udoka Azubuike is out for the season with a wrist injury. Sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa won’t play at all this season after receiving a suspension from the NCAA.
That left Self to provide more minutes Tuesday to backups guards Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson, as well as forward Mitch Lightfoot, in a 74-67 loss at Kansas State. All showed the capacity to provide some punch, but by this time in the season, Self usually has ditched any experimentation and settled on a compact rotation.
After the Kansas State defeat, which left the Jayhawks two games behind the Big 12-leading Wildcats in the loss column, Self made it clear the Jayhawks lack toughness.
“I’m talking everything,” he said. “Mental, physical … yeah, this team doesn’t have much right now.”
Only one senior is on the roster. That would be guard Lagerald Vick, whose playing time has fluctuated greatly since the start of Big 12 play after he erupted as one of the nation’s deadliest 3-point threats early in the season.
Leadership, Self said, is “a collective effort” with this assortment of players, “because we’re not going to have one guy that’s going to be a take-charge guy.”
Coming off a performance that included 23 turnovers should motivate the Jayhawks. So too should a meeting against the Cowboys, who last year became the only Big 12 rival to ever sweep Kansas in conference play with Self, who is now in his 16th season, as head coach.
Oklahoma State, however, has been riddled by player dismissals, prompting Cowboys coach Mike Boynton and his staff to conduct midseason tryouts.
A 70-68 loss at TCU on Wednesday was Oklahoma State’s fifth straight conference defeat. The Cowboys rallied from a 13-point deficit to lead in the second half, but a last-second floater by TCU thwarted the comeback.
Two freshmen, forward Yor Anei and guard Isaac Likekele, scored 20 and 17 points, respectively to lead the Cowboys. Likekele added four steals, and Anei grabbed five rebounds.
“This year’s team, though young, will continue to take pride in who they represent,” said Boynton, who is in his second season.