Bill Self, Jayhawks ready for challenge of K-State ... though they’ll be down a big man

Silas Walker/

No. 7 Kansas State has been ranked higher than No. 8 Kansas entering the school’s annual men’s basketball game in Lawrence just two times in the last 40 years.

The Wildcats, who visit Allen Fieldhouse for a 7 p.m. tipoff on Tuesday (ESPN+), are 1-1 on those occasions, winning 63-53 in a matchup between No. 18 KSU and unranked KU on Feb. 20, 1982, and losing 83-62 in a contest between No. 10 KSU and No. 14 KU on Feb. 11, 2013.

What all that means is the Wildcats (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) enter the latest edition of the Sunflower Showdown with a better chance than usual — on paper at least — of defeating KU (17-4 5-3) in the Jayhawks’ 65-year-old building, where KSU is 18-52 all-time and has dropped 16 games in a row.

“We don’t really look at the rankings,” KU freshman center Ernest Udeh said at a Monday news conference. “As for tomorrow, for sure you could say quote-unquote revenge motive, but at the end of the day we need to go in there and do what we need to do, do what we’ve always been doing, pull out a win.”

Udeh — the 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All American who scored four points and grabbed two rebounds while playing 12 minutes in Saturday’s 77-68 win at Kentucky — said trying to atone for an 83-82 overtime loss to K-State two weeks ago in Manhattan figures to be Tuesday’s motivation more than responding to this week’s positioning in the AP Top 25 in which KSU is now one slot ahead of Kansas.

KU entered that defeat in Manhattan ranked No. 2; KSU was No. 13 nationally.

“It’s really tough going into tomorrow’s game (thinking about) anything personal or personal goals, especially since they beat us the last time we met,” Udeh said. “This game coming up is really important to us and for our fans, … (so it’s about) making sure we go out there and get a win first and foremost. It’s tough for me to look at tomorrow and try to find any individual things I can do for myself.”

KU coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks snapped a three-game losing streak at Kentucky, does indeed hope his players are motivated in response to the loss at Bramlage Coliseum. K-State’s winning basket came on an alley-oop dunk by Keyontae Johnson, who scored 24 points on 7-of-17 shooting with eight rebounds. The Jayhawks’ final possession ended in a turnover.

Jalen Wilson’s career-high 38-point outburst (with nine rebounds) ended up coming in defeat.

“I don’t think that has one thing to do with anything, the fact that they are ranked ahead of us. I think what matters in our players’ minds, at least I hope so, ... is: ‘They beat us last time,’” Self said. “And that’s plenty of motive enough without thinking about stuff that is pretty irrelevant when it comes to big picture.”

Self said to win Tuesday (and snap a three-game losing streak in Big 12 play), KU must “play better one-on-one defense” than the game in Manhattan.

“Our closeouts were not any good,” Self continued. “We didn’t follow scouting report very well. Of course it helps if you shoot the ball better (KU hit 43.3% of its shots to KSU’s 41.7%.). In late-game situations obviously we need to be better.”

Self said “in a perfect world” the Jayhawks would not be playing Kansas State and Iowa State just a couple weeks after the first meeting of the season between those schools. KU, which defeated ISU in Lawrence on Jan. 14, travels to Ames for a game Saturday.

“I don’t understand why the league does it to be honest with you. We are playing both teams twice before we play Texas once,” Self said. “I know other teams in the same league do the same thing. Maybe television has a lot to do with it.

“We’re fine with it because that’s the way it is. It seems to me in a perfect world you’d try to space those games out a little more for different reasons. It seems strange to me sometimes playing a team within two weeks of when we last played them.”

Self said when games are more spread out “you have a better feel for the league. If you have one injury now, potentially one guy wouldn’t play in two games where it wouldn’t be that way the other way around. It seems strange to me, that’s all I’m saying.”

Self added K-State “is better now than they were two weeks ago because their starting center is playing (6-9 David N’Guessan did not play in the first meeting). He is a great athlete, great rim runner, can catch lobs. One thing that probably impressed me more in person was how long and fast and athletic they are.”

Injury update

KU starting guard Kevin McCullar, who tweaked an ankle Saturday against Kentucky, is likely to play against K-State, Self said.

“He’s been getting treatment the last two days. He’s responded well and I assume he’ll be available,” Self said.

KU freshman forward Zuby Ejiofor, who hurt his foot in the Kentucky game, will not play Tuesday.

“He will not not be available for a while,” Self said. “X-rays were negative, which (is) very positive for us and for him. He’ll be out an extended period of time in a walking boot until the foot heals.”