KANSAS CITY, Mo.—After a Big 12 championship game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City Saturday, both Kansas’ and Kansas State’s basketball teams headed home, settled in and resumed a relatively normal schedule. Then, three days later, the rug was pulled out from under them.
Pack up, prepare and take the drive back into the heart of Kansas City. Just when both teams get used to the feeling of no cameras or recorders in their faces, the NCAA tournament is an even bigger stage than that of the Big 12.
Although the Wildcats and Jayhawks met in the same building just a few days ago, the only possible way the two sides will meet again will be for a national championship. And with the way this college basketball season has played out, anything is possible.
Both KU and K-State appeared more than comfortable to be in literally the same locker room as last week and playing on virtually the same court in the same building.
“It’s great to be back here (in Kansas City),” said Jayhawk freshman Perry Ellis. “My family all gets to be here and our fans (too).”
Ellis (finally) became the player KU fans were expecting during last week’s Big 12 tournament with a career-high 23 points and just two misseed shots from the field against Iowa State, but he’s keeping everything in perspective.
“We still have to come to play,” said Ellis. “We still have to come and compete. That’s the main thing, just get a win. We really have to try to get this win.”
The dark-seated backdrop of the Sprint Center doesn’t have as much of an effect on his game like it would for a shooting guard like Kansas State’s Will Spradling. He said the different backdrops can make a difference on how he shoots.
“The Sprint Center goes back a ways, so you got to get used to that,” said Spradling. “Your perception will get thrown off a lot. I remember my first time playing in a big arena as a freshman. I shot terribly.”
But it’s something that gets adjusted, just as any part of the game, said Spradling. His sentiments were echoed with many of the players, whether they be shooting guards or All-American post players.
“I love playing here,” said Spradling. “We have a great fan base. It’s like a home away from home.”
KU and K-State alike have the same feelings about playing in a de facto home game.
“It’s a great advantage (to be back at the Sprint Center),” said KU center Jeff Withey. “We have all our fans here, we were in this same exact locker room, so nothing has changed. We really didn’t have to travel too much, so we still have our legs. Hopefully we can use it to our advantage.”
Withey ranks third in the nation with 3.8 blocks per game and is the all-time Big 12 leader with 294 career blocks. He was named as the Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, so his comfort level at the Sprint Center can do nothing but make his teammates and KU fans beam.
Kansas State fell short in the Big 12 tournament championship game to KU 70-54 and want to finish the season in Kansas City with (almost) nothing but good memories.
“Basically,” said Kansas State’s Martavious Irving. “We want to give our fans what they want: two wins. We want to go out on a good note.”