ST. LOUIS — Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden Jr. ducked away from the microphones and giggled when asked about the challenge of controlling Stanford’s leading scorer, as if they had never heard of Chasson Randle.
“I am not sure now,” Wiggins finally offered. “How about you, Wayne?”
Less than a day after beating Eastern Kentucky and less than a day before the second-seeded Jayhawks’ game against the No. 10 seed Cardinal, coach Bill Self said he would go over the scouting report with players later on. Although more experienced Stanford players sent to the podium Saturday were more forthcoming about their opponents’ stars, it’s that time of year when teams must adjust on the fly.
“We know he’s good,” Self said. “If you want to know anything about him, you can probably ask me.”
Both schools got to this point, an early Sunday matchup with a berth in the round of 16 at stake, by surging late. Kansas (25-9) powered from three down with 9 minutes left to win 80-69 and Stanford (22-12) surrendered an early 16-point lead and then found its second wind to eliminate No. 7 seed New Mexico 58-53.
Neither coach had a problem with the 11:15 a.m. tip-off.
“Personally, I would rather wake up and let’s play the game,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “The toughest thing for any player, any competitor, is the waiting game all day, waiting to play.”
“You know, they will have pre-game meal at 5:15 their time, but they have been over here long enough,” Self said. “I think both teams will be awake, alert and ready to go.”
Five things to watch in Stanford-Kansas:
FORGET THE NUMBERS — The seeds make it appear a mismatch. The teams know better.
Noting Mercer’s upset over No. 3 seed Duke, his alma mater, Dawkins said nothing should be considered a fluke. Dawkins hadn’t had a chance to commiserate with coach Mike Krzyzewski yet.
“It is a tough tournament and that’s what people don’t realize,” Dawkins said. “I haven’t seen it but I know in this tournament if you won, you deserved it.”
New Mexico led for all of 24 seconds against Stanford on Friday, and Kansas got tested by 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky.
STANFORD GO-TO — Randle averages 18.9 points and scored 23 to help sink the Lobos, including two clutch free throws in the closing seconds and a 3-pointer that broke a 45-all tie and put Stanford ahead for good.
By the end of the day Saturday, Kansas players should know all about him.
“He steps up and hits the 3 for us and shows great leadership, and that’s what it’s all about,” Dawkins said. “Making those moments.”
YOUNG TALENT — Kansas is a No. 2 seed for the second time in three years after winning its 10th straight Big 12 title with loads of young talent. Wiggins, who is averaging 28 points the last four games, is a likely NBA lottery pick after the season.
“Oh, I think he should definitely come back. There’s no doubt about that,” Self said to much laughter, then added, “that’s not anything we’re going to hold out hope for at all.”
Selden, a guard, is averaging 9.9 points and sophomore Perry Ellis is averaging 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
“It’s not like it used to be where, you know, the best thing about freshmen, they become sophomores,” Self said. “It’s almost like, hey, you’re a sophomore by the time conference play starts with all of the things these guys have experienced before getting to school.”
UPPERCLASS ENTRY — Stanford is in the field for the first time in six years, but half of its games have been against NCAA tournament teams. The lineup is a lot more experienced, two seniors and three juniors, and beat New Mexico despite 0-for-8 shooting from Dwight Powell, the second-leading scorer.
The Cardinal respect Kansas, but know they can beat them.
“They’re a really good team,” said senior forward Josh Huestis, who holds the school record for career blocks and is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds. “But in terms of us having to have some miracle game, some NCAA tournament magic moment, I don’t believe that.
“I believe our team is talented enough that if we come out and just play to our potential that everything will work out for us.”
INJURY WAIT — Kansas’ defense has suffered without freshman center Joel Embiid, the team’s third-leading scorer and Big 12 defensive player of the year who’s been out since the conference tournament with a stress fracture in his lower back. The school is holding out hope the 7-footer might return next week, if there is a next week.
“I am very happy to be here,” Self said. “The way we played early in the game yesterday, I’m not sure that was going to be possible.”