Sunday, March 14, 1999

Rejuvenated Kansas welcomes UK rematch

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW ORLEANS — When you are Kansas and you have won 98 games the three previous seasons, the losses are easy to remember.

        Eighteen-point losses? Very easy.

        So the sixth-seeded Jayhawks (23-9) had no problem being thrown into a bracket with third-seeded Kentucky (26-8), which they play in a second-round NCAA Tournament game today in the Superdome. UK's 63-45 beating of Kansas on Dec.1 in the Great Eight in Chicago, Kansas' most lopsided loss in four years, is fairly burned into Jayhawk lore.

        “When the pairings were announced, people back home (in Kansas) were saying, "Oh man, you'll have to play Kentucky,'” Kansas senior guard Ryan Robertson said. “But we think of it this way: In Lexington, they were saying, "Shoot, we have to play Kansas?'

        “We don't have the pressure they do. Anything less than another national championship will be a letdown for them. And we're quite anxious to get a chance to show we're a better team than the first time around.”

        The first time: UK held Kansas to 29.4-percent shooting. UK led by 19 points at halftime. Kansas had its lowest single- game point total since 1982.

        “I remember being embarrassed,” Kansas senior forward T.J. Pugh said. “We were simply outplayed in every aspect of the game.”

        Said sophomore center Eric Chenowith: “It was just a blur, up and down, up and down. We couldn't get anything done.”

        It was to be an oft-repeated feeling this winter.

        Kansas, which reached the Final Four three of the past 10 seasons and had been ranked in every Top 25 poll the past eight years, was unranked and 16-8 a month ago. A loss will give it double-digit defeats for the first time in 10 years.

        The Jayhawks lost four NBA draft picks the past two seasons — including lottery picks Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce off last year's team — and a young lineup suffered growing pains.

        “You're talking about two guys there with the mentality that they weren't going to be stopped,” Pugh said. “We don't have that NBA lottery pick this year, so it had to be more of a team effort. As the season progressed, we're doing a better job of that.”

        UK can relate. The Wildcats, who sent eight players to the NBA the past three seasons, similarly struggled to find a “go-to” scorer.

        Kansas fans, like UK fans, have little patience for rebuilding. But the Jayhawks have found fortitude in their late-season run. A victory today would ease all ills.

        “How you end up in the NCAAs, if you finish strong, that can make up for a lot of losses,” Pugh said. “This is a very forgiving time of year. If you win.”

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