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KU-Houston hoops showdown primed to be one for the ages

It already has delivered an all-timer of a quote from Houston coach Kelvin Sampson about KU's KJ Adams

3 min read
KU forward KJ Adams roars after a big play during the Jayhawks' home win over Manhattan earlier this season. Adams and No. 8 Kansas will take on No. 4 Houston at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. [Chance Parker photo]

The time has come.

It’s No. 8 Kansas vs. No. 4 Houston at storied Allen Fieldhouse for the first time as members of the Big 12 Conference and the first time, period, since 2001, when they met in the Maui Invitational.

KU leads the all-time series with Houston, 5-2, and four of the seven meetings have come in a tournament setting, making it extremely rare for these two to hook up in the regular season.

None of that matters today, though. It’s the here and now that’s most important.

And here is a quick look at what makes this game so big now, one of those that Kansas coach Bill Self said he would be disappointed about if players on both teams didn’t circle this one when the schedules came out several months ago.

• You know it’s a big game, when Self says it’s bigger than KU’s home win over the current No. 1 team in the nation (UConn) earlier this season. The reason? For one, Self said that Dec. 1 win over the Huskies feels like an entire season ago. For two, this is a conference game and the Jayhawks need a win to put themselves right back into the thick of the Big 12 title race.

• There’s also a little history behind this one. With Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars opening as a 2.5-point favorite, this game has the potential to go down as just the second time in the entire Bill Self era that the Jayhawks have been home underdogs. It depends on where the line settles by tipoff.

The other came back in 2021, when Kansas was a 5-point underdog to unbeaten Baylor, just a few weeks before the Bears won the national title. KU won that one by 13, 71-58, in front of a mostly empty Allen Fieldhouse during the COVID season.

The fieldhouse won’t be empty in this one. In fact, it might be one of the best atmospheres we’ve seen in there in recent memory.

Self’s Jayhawks are 9-12 against the spread so far this season, including a 6-5 mark at home.

• If you’re looking for two big keys to watch in terms of what happens on the court when the clock is ticking, pay attention to KU’s turnovers and rebounding. The Jayhawks will have their hands full with Houston’s defense, which Self said is “as good as any team in the country, without question.”

He added: “They are connected. They fly around. They load up. They are a good ball-screen defense team. They trap a lot, pressure out of it and pressure to steal,” Self said.

The other area is rebounding, on both the offensive and defensive boards. Self said Houston was just as good on the offensive end as they are on D, and while those offensive rebounds, from all of those athletes, can lead to a ton of second-chance points, the defensive boards can spark the Cougars’ transition game, which can be lethal.

“We have to be exceptional on the glass,” Self said. “No question that will be a major key in us having success.”

• Finally, you don’t have to look hard to find out how much respect Houston’s coach has for the KU program. Dating back to his days at Oklahoma, in matchups with both Roy Williams and Bill Self and dozens of great Kansas players, Sampson has always spoke highly of the Jayhawks and the culture and history that runs so deep in Lawrence.

I can’t remember him ever being quite as complimentary in those days as he was this week about one KU player in particular during the lead-up to Saturday’s showdown.

That one player was KU forward KJ Adams, and Sampson gave an all-timer of a quote about the Kansas junior.

“KJ Adams, I think, is the most underrated player in America,” Sampson told his local media. “I’ve said that when I would watch Kansas on TV. I’ve said, the guy that stirs the drink for them is (Dajuan) Harris and Adams.”

He continued: “I just love the way Adams plays. If he was a washcloth and you just wring him out it would just flood with winner in him. He’s just a winner.”

Adams and his teammates will have quite a challenge on their hands to emerge victorious in this one.

But it’s not hard to envision them — and 16,300 of their closest friends — being up for the challenge.

Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m. on ESPN.

Game on!