TULSA — By the time the final horn sounded on Kansas’ 100-62 NCAA Tournament victory over UC Davis, much of the buzz inside the BOK Center had turned to periphery subjects, like the courtside appearance of actor Rob Lowe and the long 3-pointer made by the KU coach’s son, Tyler Self.
It was that kind of first round for the Big 12 Conference.
Proclaimed college basketball’s best league, the Big 12 displayed a solid show of force during Thursday and Friday’s games (and earlier play-in games), posting a 5-2 overall record, the league’s best NCAA Tournament start since going 5-2 in 2010 (the Big 12 went 6-0 in 2009). This year’s only blemishes: both Oklahoma State and Kansas State lost on Friday.
To the chagrin of many Wildcat fans, Bruce Weber probably lives to coach another day in Manhattan, and to the relief of Cowboy fans everywhere, Brad Underwood’s first season in Stillwater — although concluding with a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament defeat, a 92-91 loss to Michigan in Indianapolis — was a resounding success.
Baylor easily beat New Mexico State 91-73 (earlier Friday in Tulsa), and on Thursday, West Virginia knocked out Bucknell and Iowa State defeated Nevada. Kansas State took down Wake Forest in a First Four play-in game.
Kansas’ display against UC Davis, though, and the Jayhawks’ ongoing tournament fortunes, represent the Big 12’s true postseason fate. As KU goes, so goes the Big 12.
“I think,” said Kansas senior Frank Mason, “we played a really good game.”
Mason led the No. 1-seed Jayhawks with 22 points. Five KU players scored in double figures. Kansas might not have championship depth, but it does have a consistently great starting five.
Of course, no No. 1 seed has ever lost an opening-round game, now 132 consecutive victories for the big boys over their 16th-seeded counterparts. So a 38-point victory over UC Davis isn’t going to get Kansas to Phoenix for the Final Four, or Bill Self his second national championship trophy.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything other than getting guys out of the game and kind of piecing together the last six or seven minutes just to get ready for Sunday.”
— Kansas coach Bill Self
To wit, eight minutes into Friday’s game, the Jayhawks and Aggies were tied at 21.
“We haven’t played much in the last couple of weeks, obviously,” Bill Self said. “I think only one game in 13 days. But we were a little nervous, I think, early, anxious, and they certainly made it very difficult to score early on. And then I thought from about the 12-minute mark of the first half, you know, the lid came off the basket, and I thought we executed very well and performed pretty well.”
Kansas hit some 3s, then got the fast break going, then the game was over.
“The ball started going in the hole, Self said. “And it seemed like it happened pretty fast, 21-all and then the next thing you know we’re up 28, I think, if I’m not mistaken. So that was a pretty good 10-minute stretch for us.”
As the Jayhawks’ lead grew, the fan base that had traveled south to wedge itself into the BOK Center got louder. This year’s KU team had made its reputation for coming from behind and to finishing out close games, so the closing stages of an NCAA blowout became something of a celebration.
“The last five minutes or so, I was certainly thinking about how are we going to prepare tonight and moving forward,” Self said. “ … I wasn’t thinking about anything other than getting guys out of the game and kind of piecing together the last six or seven minutes just to get ready for Sunday.”
Meanwhile, as the margin grew, photos began to circulate on social media depicting the erstwhile Brat Packer Rob Lowe sitting a few rows up in the UC Davis section with his son. Lowe, 53, is in Tulsa to help preserve some sets from the 1983 film “The Outsiders,” set and filmed in Tulsa. “Sodapop Curtis” and many of his castmates have been working with the book’s author and Tulsa resident S.E. Hinton to preserve the Tulsa house in which the “greasers” lived.
It was Lowe’s first feature film. Part of his return to Tulsa was spent shooting a documentary about the film. Lowe told reporters that more details will be forthcoming Monday.
While Lowe was patiently posing for fan snapshots, Self emptied the KU bench. That meant playing time for his son, Tyler, born in Tulsa and now a fifth-year walk-on senior who plays only when the Jayhawks have a comfortable lead.
Tyler Self made two free throws, then somewhat etched himself into Jayhawk lore by dropping in a 3-pointer to give Kansas its 100th point.
The KU bench exploded.
“It was great,” Mason said. “It was great to see him get out there and knock a 3-pointer down. It showed from the bench we were all happy for him.”
“It is nice to go out like that,” Tyler Self said. “I was born here. It will be cool to look back on. … Definitely a cool moment. You never know if you are going to get the chance to play or not. When we got the opportunity we wanted to make the most of it. It is definitely cool to do it in your hometown, so to say.”
As Kansas players and coaches exulted on the sidelines, Self quickly sat down, put his elbows on his knees and placed his left hand over his chin, trying in vain to hide a massive smile.
“You know, I’ve been spoiled because I’ve had a chance to be around him every day for the last five years,” Bill Self said. “And you can’t make up for lost time, but that’s certainly something that’s been a blessing for me. And you know, to see him out there and have some success is always good, but whether the ball goes in or if it doesn’t go in, it really doesn’t change anything from my perspective. It probably does from his.
“But that was nice to see, and the guys were all happy for him because they know he’s paid a pretty big price over the last five years.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.