At 22-0, Kansas in perfect position Undefeated season possible for Jayhawks

February 03, 1997|By Bart Hubbuch | Bart Hubbuch,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

They insisted it couldn't be done.

It's being done.

After listening to a procession of Big 12 Conference coaches -- including their own -- insist no team would escape the league's debut season unscathed, the Kansas Jayhawks are 8-0 at the midway point in conference play.

And with the toughest part of the Big 12 schedule seemingly behind Kansas, it might be time for the coaches to revise their predictions about Roy Williams' 22-0 team.

Some already have.

"I don't see any weaknesses," said Texas coach Tom Penders, his team an 86-61 loser to the Jayhawks on Jan. 6. "If any team can do it [go unbeaten in the conference], they can."

Then again, maybe not. The Jayhawks certainly didn't look invincible Saturday against lowly Nebraska before pulling out an 82-77 overtime victory, and Kansas must travel to Missouri and No. 11 Iowa State this week.

Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, has been a house of horrors for the Jayhawks since before Williams arrived nine years ago, and the 15-3 Cyclones are surging again with four straight victories after a mid-January slump.

But should Kansas survive this week's road trials, a 16-0 finish in the Big 12 appears a solid bet. The Jayhawks -- off to their best start ever -- play four of their final six games at home.

Just don't mention any of that to Williams or his players, who are perhaps mindful of the Final Four-or-bust mentality building in their fans.

"The only time I ever talk about it [the possibility of going undefeated] is when the media asks me," Williams said. "We never talk about it as a team."

Added senior shooting guard Jerod Haase: "I don't think anybody on this team has that [an undefeated season] as their first priority right now."

But the Jayhawks' quest to become the first team to go undefeated over an entire season since Indiana in 1976 has become the dominant story line in the Big 12, especially in light of the rest of the conference.

The games have been close (32 decided by 10 points or fewer), but only Kansas, Iowa State and mystery guest Colorado -- all from the North Division -- have experienced any consistent success.

The rest, more or less, has been a haze of mediocrity. The problem is acute in the South Division, where Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and the four Southwest Conference refugees have beaten up on one another when they weren't being beaten up by North schools.

You know it's bad when the division co-leaders, Texas and Texas Tech, are each 5-3 in league play heading into their nationally televised showdown tonight in Austin. Those records would be good for fourth place in the North standings.

"It's a tough league, but we knew that going in," Penders said.

And it doesn't figure to get any easier for the 11-7 Longhorns, who must play Tech twice, Iowa State in Austin and road games at Nebraska and at No. 18 Colorado the rest of the way.

The 22nd-ranked Red Raiders have a slightly easier path, with two games against struggling Texas A&M, one with Baylor and a trip to Missouri. That could be the recipe for the South title and its prize of a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament.

But don't count out Oklahoma, which evened its league record to 4-4 with an 83-69 win over Texas on Saturday and has a remaining schedule that includes A&M, winless Kansas State and Baylor.

"Our kids are oblivious to what other people think," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Our kids think we're pretty good."

Williams' kids, on the other hand, don't have to think -- the Jayhawks know how talented they are.

"These kids think of the score and not how many points they score," Williams said. "They enjoy each other's success. I don't know that we've had any team that enjoys each other this much."

Or makes this many coaches look bad.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.