LAWRENCE — Bill Self expected electricity Saturday, and as an unofficial 120-plus decibel reading measured before tipoff illustrated, Allen Fieldhouse lived up to its end of the arrangement.
Self was less impressed with his No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ energy, though after reflecting on what was an emotionally taxing week, the Kansas basketball head coach could perhaps see why.
“It was obviously the setting for a great atmosphere, and you know, I thought our guys played tired,” Self said in a postgame radio interview following KU’s 74-68 victory over Tennessee. “I thought this past week has kind of gotten to them a little bit from a fatigue standpoint.
“We did enough to win, but it wasn’t our best.”
Playing for the first time since an end-of-game brawl with Kansas State on Tuesday that resulted in the multi-game suspensions of Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack, KU’s seven active scholarship players were able to eke it out against the 13-point underdog Volunteers. Lone big Udoka Azubuike proved invaluable in his foul-plagued 27 minutes, scoring 18 points with 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 27 minutes, while Devon Dotson scored 22 points with seven assists.
“We really never had a chance to probably play to what we wanted to do just because of circumstances, nobody’s fault,” Self said. “And so I thought it was a pretty blah performance when I thought we would be really, really turned up. But we needed to play a game.”
McCormack is eligible to return following the Jayhawks’ next contest, an 8 p.m. Monday tilt with Oklahoma State at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., while De Sousa can’t return until KU’s season finale on March 7 at Texas Tech.
KU celebrated its 300th consecutive sellout of Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, an occasion admittedly overshadowed by Tuesday's brawl.
“I told (the players) after the game, I thought this was the perfect setting to have the best building, just because it should be the easiest game of the year to get up for after everything we went through on Tuesday and then what’s happened in the aftermath of that and then (ESPN College) GameDay on top of that,” Self said. “You should be so excited and energized, at least the way I see it. I didn’t think we played with that energy like we should’ve, and that usually starts on the defensive end. But we did enough and certainly the guys may have been more fatigued than I thought they were.”
If KU (16-3, 5-1 Big 12) was indeed fatigued, that included Self, a reality he acknowledged in his postgame news conference.
“I’m tired. I’m tired, at least right now. I’ll be fine (Sunday),” Self said. “But the whole thing is, if I am, they probably are too. So getting out of here with a ‘W’ was probably just what we needed.”
The 17th-year Jayhawk head coach also suffered a personal loss in the days leading up to the game — Robert Archibald, a former player for Self at Illinois, died Thursday at the age of 39. KU assistant coach Jerrance Howard was a teammate of Archibald at Illinois from 2000-'02.
KU junior guard Marcus Garrett said the team sensed the pair’s loss at a Friday practice.
“We just seen Coach’s eyes and how him and coach Howard felt about the situation, so (picking them up) was the big thing for us,” Garrett said. “... Silvio picked him up and let him know we here for him.”
The Jayhawks will now attempt to turn their attention to the Cowboys (10-9, 0-6), who broke a six-game skid in a big way with a 73-62 victory Saturday at Texas A&M. That outcome helped the Big 12 earn a split in this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, a fact not lost on Self.
“Oh, that’s great,” Self said after learning of OSU’s victory. “I mean, it’s probably not great for us because they’ll have confidence, and they started getting their stroke back (last Tuesday) at Iowa State the last game even though they lost. But that’s great for our league and I’m happy about that. ...
“Certainly one thing I know: On Monday, let’s not play without Doke.”