BYU Ready For Rare Opportunity To Face No. 4 Kansas In Maui
MAUI, Hawaii – It’s not every day BYU gets a chance to face a top-five team in the non-conference. Especially against a blue blood program such as the Kansas Jayhawks. But BYU has the opportunity in front of them in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday night.
BYU will take on No. 4 Kansas at 8:30 p.m. (MT) on ESPN and KSL NewsRadio, just one day after the Cougars dominating victory over the UCLA Bruins.
“It’s going to be a blast. That’s an incredible program. They have so much history, it’s going to be so much fun. The environment is going to be great and we’re really excited,” said BYU guard TJ Haws.
The last time BYU faced tradition-rich Kansas was in the second round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament in Chicago. BYU lost that game 90-76. Tuesday night’s game marks only the fifth meeting all-time between the two programs. BYU’s lone win came in 1960 in Provo against former Jayhawk star Bill Bridges.
“Kansas is a great program. They have unbelievable size … they’re long and physical and capable of guarding and they got a great coach and a great coaching staff,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “That’s why you come to this tournament. If we didn’t want a chance at Kansas we would have gone to some mid-major tournament somewhere. But this is where we want to be.”
When Pope was hired back in April, he said he doesn’t live in “realistic expectations” and that he wanted to “swing big” in his program. There are few opportunities that you can swing at in college basketball that are bigger than facing Kansas in the Maui Invitational.
BYU is 4-2 on the season and looking to get better every day. Kansas enters the game with a 4-1 record. Their only loss coming against No. 1 Duke in the season-opener back on November 5th in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. But as always, the Jayhawks are viewed as a legitimate candidate to win a National Championship.
To highlight how rare opportunities against top-five teams are for BYU in non-conference, the Cougars have played eight such games since 1981. 1981 was the last time BYU defeated a top-5 team in non-conference play when they took down No. 2 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. Since, BYU is 0-8 in such games with the most recent coming in 2007 against No. 1 North Carolina in Las Vegas.
In order to pull off the upset BYU will need to shoot like they did against UCLA last night. The Cougars shot 62-percent from the field, 50-percent from the behind the three-point line, and 88-percent from the foul line.
“This difficult schedule is beautiful for us to learn who we are. We’re a better team now than we were a week ago and hopefully after we play Kansas we’ll be a better team than we are tonight (after UCLA win). And that’s the whole point of playing,” said Pope. “We want to be the best team we can at the end of this season, that’s our whole goal, that’s all we’ve talked about since we started.”
Kansas’ roster features former five-star recruit Devon Dotson at point guard, 7-0 center Udoka Azubuike, and Ochai Agbaji, a 6-5 shooting guard who is probably KU’s top NBA Draft prospect.
“This is a great opportunity to play three games in three days because eventually in the conference tournament, that’s what it’s going to come down to,” said BYU’s Jake Toolson. “So we’re just going to attack this opportunity of three games in three days to really prepare us for what’s going to pay off for us this season.”
BYU vs. No. 4 Kansas
Tip: 8:30 p.m. (MT)
Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM, 1160 AM
Stream: KSL NewsRadio App
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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