OMAHA, Neb. — Nowhere near a Walgreen’s, but no worries. The Jayhawks managed to arrive here happy and healthy after a three-hour bus ride Wednesday night.
“We’re as healthy, knock on wood, as we’ve been in a long time,” said coach Bill Self, about 10 minutes after getting off the team bus at KU basketball hotel headquarters across from CenturyLink Center.
The top-seeded Jayhawks (29-7) face No. 5 seed Clemson (25-9) at 6:07 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink in the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, and all signs point to more minutes from Udoka Azubuike.
“Doke is at full speed,” Self said. “Now his timing may not be great, but his health his good.”
Azubuike’s health has been a hot topic for the last two weeks, but he made a big difference in limited minutes against Seton Hall on Saturday, and the 7-footer’s MCL sprain appears to be mostly a non-issue.
“If we take him out (Friday),” Self said, “it will probably because he picks up two silly fouls early, not because of any type of (health) problems. We’re excited to have him out there.”
Azubuike is healthy, and KU is also getting a break — added rest — from how the tournament schedule has played out.
“We thought we caught a little bit of a bad break playing Thursday and Saturday last week,” Self said. “But what it turned out to be was a good break playing Friday and Sunday this weekend.”
Clemson played Sunday, routing No. 4 seed Auburn 84-53 in San Diego.
So on the rest factor, advantage Kansas.
“We should be as rested as we’ve been, going into Friday,” Self said.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are as hot as any team in the tournament, rested or not. Before the Auburn rout, Clemson easily handled New Mexico State 79-68. Two dominant performances for a program that has not made it this far in 21 years.
Clemson plays great defense, and it’s no secret that their triple threat of guards — Gabe DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed — are a handful.
“They’ve got three guards who are as good as or better than anything we see,” Self said. “Those are elite-type players, and all of them are capable of getting 20 or 25. It will be tough to keep all three of those guards down.”
NO PLACE LIKE NEBRASKA — The Jayhawks are just an hour away from Lincoln, where Danny Manning and Co. started their run to the 1988 NCAA title. And Omaha is where KU started its 2008 NCAA championship journey.
Overall, the Jayhawks are 5-1 in tournament games at CenturyLink. The one dud was a 78-65 loss to Wichita State in the second round in 2015.
“Nebraska has been pretty good to us,” Self said, “but the last time we played here wasn’t very good. We didn’t play very well at all (against Wichita State), but we are happy to be here.”