Jayhawks think rest will beat out rust after unexpected layoff

Kansas forward Landen Lucas signs a couple more autographs as the Jayhawks make their way from the court following a practice before fans on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At left is Kansas guard Josh Jackson.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas signs a couple more autographs as the Jayhawks make their way from the court following a practice before fans on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At left is Kansas guard Josh Jackson. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — From the time Big 12 play began the last week of December up until the league’s tournament started in March, the Kansas basketball team existed on a steady diet of two games a week. The Jayhawks expected an even larger plate on the first weekend of the postseason, in Kansas City, Mo., before TCU sent them home early.

By the time KU, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, tips off its NCAA Tournament opener against UC-Davis at BOK Arena Friday evening, eight days will have passed since the players last competed full-out on a basketball court.

“I think this is the longest break we’ve had between games since the start of the season — at least that I can remember,” said senior center Landen Lucas, whose assessment was nearly spot on (KU also had eight days off with its holiday break in late December). “And, you know, it is weird. It almost feels like preseason again. You’re getting tired of battling against your teammates and stuff and ready to play somebody else.”

The subject rarely comes up for Kansas in March, one of the program’s busiest times of year, but the prolonged and unexpected layoff in action inspired a locker room discussion with media ahead of the Jayhawks’ tourney opener against UC-Davis (23-12).

“There’s always that debate about rust and rest and which one’s gonna come up, but I feel like it equals out,” Lucas predicted. “The rest is gonna be helpful at times maybe later in the game and the rust is early. If you were gonna say which one would you rather have, I think later would be better. We’ll be fine, and I think that as a team we’re mature enough that we can handle the rust.”

Indeed, the Jayhawks (28-4) have overcome all sorts of in-game challenges over the course of the past four months, often with veterans Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Lucas coming through with one play or many in crunch time.

While KU’s time off had plenty to do with Josh Jackson’s suspension, and how much the team missed his defense, rebounding and play-making, it did allow junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk to bust out of a personal slump. The starter from Ukraine could have used another game (or two) to keep building off the momentum of an 18-point outing.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) heads in for a bucket past TCU guard Kenrich Williams (34) during the first half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) heads in for a bucket past TCU guard Kenrich Williams (34) during the first half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

So, Svi, is this break from action a positive or negative for KU?

“I think the bad thing was we lost and we wanted to play more games and win the Big 12 tournament,” Mykhailiuk responded. “But I think the good thing is we got more time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament — working on mistakes, working on the defense and offense and just preparing better.”

Even if certain Jayhawks were battling fatigue right now, Mykhailiuk said they would find ways to ignore it this time of year, because all they care about are the games and finding ways to win.

According to Mason, who averaged 37.2 minutes a game in Big 12 play, KU spent its eight days off wisely.

“Yeah, definitely. Once we got back from last game, we got a little bit of rest,” said Mason, never one to seek out such respite. “And the next day we had practice. We practiced really hard. I think we got better as a team. And just a few days after the game, we practiced really hard and we're really prepared for this tournament.”

In the time since KU lost, UC-Davis, which also played that day, has played three more games, winning them all.

The Jayhawks haven’t exactly been idle, but their March got off to what Lucas said felt like a strange start. That odd feeling, though, might come accompanied with fresh legs that will prove rather handy in the days ahead.

“It could be helpful,” Lucas said of those eight game-free days. “I think we’re using this as motivation, using it as some momentum off of the practices going into this next game.”

For what it’s worth, Kansas lost in the Big 12 semifinals in 2012, then had seven days off before beginning a run to the national title game.