Once defensive about change, Kansas adjusts to Self's defense

`This team has really grown up'

injured Elder iffy for Georgia Tech

Ncaa Regional St. Louis

March 28, 2004|By Rob Fernas | Rob Fernas,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ST. LOUIS - It never reached the level of a mutiny, but there were times this season when Kansas players questioned whether Bill Self was the right man to coach one of college basketball's most successful programs.

Team meetings were called so players could voice their grievances. Self, whose strident emphasis on defense was a change from previous coach Roy Williams, ended each gathering with the same message.

"He made it clear it was going to be his way," junior guard Keith Langford said.

Now the Jayhawks understand it was the only way.

Despite having to replace a coach and two All-Americans, Kansas finds itself back in a familiar position today - playing in a regional final with a chance to earn its third consecutive trip to the Final Four.

The fourth-seeded Jayhawks (24-8) play third-seeded Georgia Tech (26-9) at 2:40 p.m. in the Edward Jones Dome for the St. Louis Regional title.

A month ago, it seemed unlikely Kansas would get this far.

The Jayhawks had lost their fourth consecutive road game in Big 12 Conference play, falling to Texas, 82-67, on Feb. 23. Self, however, could see his players were doing a better job of carrying out his instructions.

"We left there feeling better about ourselves," he said.

Kansas has won seven of eight games since then, including a resounding 100-74 victory over Alabama-Birmingham in the regional semifinals Friday.

Looking back, Self said some players had trouble accepting that changes were the only way the Jayhawks could compensate for losing their top two offensive players from last season - All-Americans Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.

"This team has really grown up, because it took guys a long time to realize that Nick and Kirk were not here anymore," Self said.

This is the third time Self has coached a team to the Elite Eight, after doing it with Illinois in 2001 and Tulsa in 2000. His teams are 13-5 in the NCAA tournament in the past six seasons.

Standing in the way of Self's first Final Four appearance is an athletic and deep Georgia Tech team that overcame the loss of leading scorer B.J. Elder to defeat Nevada, 62-57, in the regional semifinals Friday.

Coach Paul Hewitt said Elder, who sprained his right ankle when a Nevada player fell on him, was experiencing soreness but no swelling yesterday and would continue to receive treatment.

"I'm anticipating that he will play," Hewitt said. "How much [he can play] will be a game-time decision."

Senior guard Marvin Lewis said he didn't expect Georgia Tech to make any sweeping changes if Elder, a junior guard, is sidelined.

"We might change certain plays in a half-court set," Lewis said. "But overall we're still trying to get out in transition."

Lewis compensated Friday by scoring 23 points, 12 above his average. The Yellow Jackets continued to survive on their defense, holding Nevada to 21.2 percent shooting in the second half of a comeback victory.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Today's game

No. 3 Georgia Tech vs. No. 4 Kansas

When: 2:40 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Records: Georgia Tech 26-9; Kansas 24-8.

How they got there: Georgia Tech defeated No. 14 Northern Iowa, 65-60, defeated No. 6 Boston College, 57-54, defeated No. 10 Nevada, 72-67; Kansas defeated No. 13 Illinois-Chicago, 78-53, defeated No. 12 Pacific, 78-63; defeated No. 9 UAB, 100-74.

What to watch for: Tech needs its strong quartet of guards - Will Bynum, B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack and Marvin Lewis (Germantown) - to control the tempo, play strong defense, take good care of the ball and hit its outside shots. Frankly, that's not asking that much, as that quartet has been doing that all season. (Elder's ankle injury is a concern, though.) Any offense from the frontcourt guys will be gravy. What Tech's big men must do is keep Kansas F Wayne Simien from taking over in the low post. Kansas has a nice perimeter trio in Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and J.R. Giddens - the only consistent outside threat - but the Jayhawks need a big game from Simien. He's vastly more talented than any big man Tech will put on the floor, and that has to worry Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt. Look for Tech to go four or even five deep with its big men and bump and grind on Simien all game.

Keys to the game: Tech's guards can win the game by themselves - unless Simien dominates in the paint. That means Tech needs solid defense from its big guys, especially Luke Schenscher and Clarence Moore. Tech can afford to be physical and ring up some fouls while guarding Simien. Look for Tech to harass Miles all over the court to take Kansas out of its offense.

Projected winner: Georgia Tech.

The line: Kansas by 5.

- Mike Huguenin, Orlando Sentinel

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