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KUs Self faces former team in NCAA Tournament
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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Bruce Weber once held a mock funeral to lay Bill Self’s memory to rest once and for all at Illinois.
On Sunday night, it’ll pop up again when Self leads top-seeded Kansas (33-2) against Weber’s Fighting Illini for a chance to move on to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Weber, struggling to get past repeated comparisons to his predecessor in his first season of replacing Self as Illinois’ coach, dressed in all black and told his players it was Self’s funeral and time to move on.
“When I did that, I’m not sure how Bill took it, but it was really a compliment to him, to be honest — how he captured the players, the fans, what he did at Illinois,” Weber said. “And somehow I had to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to go down the road.’”
Weber added: “I always joked I never could understand, people were mad at me because he left.”
Self, who had his own adjustment period after replacing Roy Williams at Kansas, said he wasn’t offended by Weber pretending to read his last rites.
“I do remember when that came out,” Self said. “My wife, it was the only time she’s been real excited when I answer the phone, when I was still around.”
Weber finished that 2003-04 season by leading Illinois to its first outright Big Ten title in 52 years and followed it with a trip to the national championship game the next season.
“I had to deal with a little bit of heat when I did it but maybe it worked, I guess, in the long run,” Weber said.
Self’s Jayhawks have their own set of lingering memories they’d like to bury. Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of Kansas’ upset loss against Northern Iowa in the opening weekend — on Oklahoma soil, against a No. 9 seed that had beaten UNLV in its opener.
So what’s different this time?
“Nothing at all,” guard Brady Morningstar said. “It’s the same routine. We’re still in Oklahoma — just in Tulsa this time. The media is all the same. The same floor that we play on, it pretty much looks the same.
“It’s just a different year, a new team, new guys and I’m excited to be in this position again.”
After Kansas snapped out of a sluggish first half against a No. 16 seed for the second straight year to beat Boston University 72-53, leading scorer Marcus Morris said he was tired of hearing about the Northern Iowa loss and that the Jayhawks “know what we need to do to stop it from happening and move on.”
“We know that we need to keep up our intensity ... the way we played against Texas,” Morris said Saturday, referring to a dominant 85-73 win in the Big 12 championship game last weekend. “Texas is one of the elite teams in the NCAA. They have a legitimate chance to win an NCAA championship.
“The way we played against them, we looked like national champions.”
That’s the Jayhawks team that will need to show up Sunday night, particularly if the Fighting Illini — ranked as high as No. 12 at midseason — are clicking like they were in a rout of UNLV on Friday night.
Weber could return to Champaign with back-to-back wins against the two coaches that preceded him, Self and the Runnin’ Rebels’ Lon Kruger.
“I’m sure there’s an extra edge for any coach that’s playing their old school,” Morningstar said. “Whether you let that show to your team or not, that’s the coach’s decision. But coach Self’s always the same. He’s going to prepare us as well as he can to get us ready to play.”
Self said he thought the fact that the Tulsa pod featured the last three Illini coaches was the selection committee showing its sense of humor. He believes after eight years, bygones will be bygones for most Illinois fans who were upset that he left after sharing the Big Ten regular-season title in his first two seasons and then winning the conference tournament in 2003.
They rubbed it in when Self suffered through Kansas’ first-round NCAA tournament upsets in 2005 — when Illinois reached the Final Four — and again the next year.
“The emails started flooding in about two or three years after I left,” Self said. “There haven’t been that many since then.”
Self led Kansas to the 2008 national title, beating Williams and North Carolina in the Final Four to firmly step out of his predecessor’s shadow.
Williams had won 418 games in 15 seasons at Kansas, taking the Jayhawks to four Final Fours but never bringing home the trophy. He finally won it all with the Tar Heels in ‘05 — coincidentally beating Weber’s Illini in the final — to put even more pressure on Self.
“The perfect scenario is to take over a new job where they’ve got great players nobody knows are any good, they haven’t won and the previous coach was disliked,” Self said. “So, I’m smart enough to take over for Roy Williams, who everybody knew they had great players, he won 80-something percent of his games and everybody adored.
“So, that was not smart.”
Eventually, everyone moves on. Maybe after just one more game.
“They would like nothing more than to clean our clock,” Self said. “And from our standpoint, we would like nothing more than to beat them because that allows us to advance.”