Kansas appeared nearly unstoppable as it defeated its first seven opponents by an average of 30.6 points, but a poor four-day stretch against two Pac-12 foes last week has coach Bill Self questioning the mental fortitude of his young team. The 12th-ranked Jayhawks attempt to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2012-13 on Saturday when they visit former Big 12 rival Nebraska.
Highlighted by neutral-site victories over No. 5 Kentucky and Syracuse, Kansas averaged 91.9 points and won six of its first seven contests by at least 15 points until Washington went to great lengths to force the Jayhawks to beat its zone inside the arc, and Kansas was dealt a stunning 74-65 loss on Dec. 6. Three days later, No. 6 Arizona State exposed the Jayhawks’ inability to defend the 3-pointer, going 14-for-28 from long-range and using a 58-point second half to stun Kansas 95-85 at Allen Fieldhouse. “This is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. A lot of that is experience. A lot of that is youth. A lot of it is just the way that we’re physically built and the way our skill-set is. But the bottom line is we’ve got to become tougher on that (defensive) end,” Self told the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Cornhuskers, who lost 75-65 at No. 25 Creighton last Saturday, have dropped 17 straight to Kansas but are 5-0 at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season and knocked off then-No. 15 Minnesota in their last home game on Dec. 5.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT KANSAS (7-2): Ironically, the shorthanded Jayhawks may get some help from 6-6 Sam Cunliffe, who will be eligible for the first time Saturday after transferring from Arizona State, where he averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 10 games last season. “I don’t know how much he’ll play right off the bat. It’ll certainly be nice to have another body to go to. … Could he be a nice piece (of the puzzle) and give us short minutes? Absolutely,” Self told the Capital-Journal. Lagerald Vick has benefited the most statistically from opponents’ desire to clamp down on Kansas’ perimeter shooting recently, as he is averaging 24.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists over his last three outings.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (7-4): Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland, who had a 30-point outing earlier this season, posted his first double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two blocks and two steals against Creighton. James Palmer Jr. (team-high 14.2 points) played a season-low 21 minutes last Saturday but still finished with 16 points and has reached double figures in 10 of his first 11 games. Glynn Watson Jr. (13.9) shot 4-of-14 from the field and fouled out late after scoring eight points versus the Bluejays; the 6-0 junior is averaging 7.5 points on 23.5-percent shooting in the Cornhuskers’ four losses but scoring 17.6 points per game on 51.8 percent from the field in their seven victories.
1. The loss to Arizona State marked only the eighth time in 15 seasons under Self that Kansas yielded at least 90 points and only the 25th time an opponent shot at least 50 percent from the field.
2. Nebraska committed nine turnovers versus the Bluejays, marking the third time in four games it finished with fewer than 10.
3. The Jayhawks set a school record against the Sun Devils by attempting 38 3-pointers.
PREDICTION: Kansas 83, Nebraska 70