By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s five-game win streak, including back-to-back wins over top 25 teams, has impressed Kansas coach Bill Self going into Saturday night’s game in Rupp Arena.
“They’re playing well. They were really good, especially the last 10 to 12 minutes against Mississippi State, the other night. They’re good. They’re big. They’ve got enough fouls to give so they should never have to play shorthanded up front,” Self said.
He described freshman point guard Ashton Hagans as a “premier point guard” who just as good on defense. He said both Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson are having “terrific years and are on a roll” going into this game.
“They are a team that can win a national championship. I know everybody thought that before the season and then you have one game (a loss to Duke to start the season) where the attention shifts,” Self said. They’ve grinded their way back to where they are right now and that’s being one of the best teams in the country.”
Self appreciates the size that Reid Travis adds for Kentucky
“He’s an explosive jumper in tight. He doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, but he’s definitely a skilled perimeter player who can stretch it, as evidenced by what he did at Stanford,” Self said. “He also brings a ton of experience. If I’m not mistaken, Reid reshirted one year at Stanford due to injury. He’s a college graduate from Stanford, a fifth-year guy and helping all those young kids at Kentucky. I would think his value to the team is about as high as anyone’s.”
Self knows his team, which is younger this year than normal, will be “amped” up to play in Rupp Arena.
“That’s part of growing up though and it’s ok. As important as this game is to people, this is just a game you just go play, have fun and let it go. No matter what happens, you’ve got to turn the table in 24 hours and start preparing for someone else; (and we have) a good Texas team (Tuesday, Jan. 29 in Austin). I think we’ll handle it fine. Iowa State (Hilton Coliseum), there’s some really good atmospheres in our league and other places that we’ve played in,” Self said.
“This will be unique because the atmosphere is great, but it’s the ‘stuff’ outside of the lines is what puts the pressure on. You know how many NBA scouts are there; you know ‘GameDay’ is there; you know every time you turn on the TV, they are going to be talking about Kentucky vs. Kansas. That’ll be new for our guys and hopefully they’ll be able to handle the emotion of it. But they did pretty good in the Champions Classic (dealing with those elements).”