Jalen Wilson had 20 points and seven rebounds for No. 1 seed and defending national champion Kansas, allowing absent and recovering coach Bill Self to rest during an easy 96-68 win over Howard on Thursday in a game West Region first-round pick.
Self is still recovering from a recent heart procedure.
Gradey Dick had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the freshman’s NCAA Tournament opener. KJ Adams Jr. scored 13 points and Dajuan Harris Jr. added 11 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who play the winner of the second-round game between Arkansas and Illinois on Saturday.
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Kansas, which has won 16 straight first-round games, is trying to become the first repeat NCAA winner in 16 years.
Shy Odom had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Bison (22-13), who were making their first tournament appearance for the program since 1992.
The Jayhawks began their NCAA-record 33rd consecutive tournament appearance with assistant coach Norm Roberts running the show, a rare sight without Self barking orders from the bench. Self, 60, who is in his 20th season at Kansas, underwent a standard heart procedure to treat blocked arteries in his heart last week that prevented him from training in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Jayhawks lost in the Big 12 title game to Texas, but their 15-6 record in NCAA-ranked Quad 1 games was unmatched in the country by a new team that lost most of their best players from last year. championship team.
Kansas isn’t that deep, but the Jayhawks move and share the ball at a breakneck pace that ultimately proved too much for the Bison.
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Howard took the lead five times in the second half, but Kansas always responded, often with a well-placed hand on a passing lane for a steal and a fast-break finish. Then there were the alley-oops, with Harris and Kevin McCullar Jr. each lobbing a textbook lob off the drive to Ernest Udeh Jr. for a rim-rocking dunk in the first half. Harris also found Adams for one.
Howard’s rare appearance on the big stage came exactly five years after UMBC’s knockout of Virginia, the only time a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1. The Bison were the 149th team to try. .
Wearing their Black History Month jerseys with green trim and a red «Mecca» script across the front, a reference to Howard’s nickname as the most prominent historically black university in the country, the Bison took the field with plenty of confidence.
Elijah Hawkins hit an early 3-pointer and pointed to his forearm to indicate ice was in his veins. Kobe Dickson flexed his right arm after making a layup.
Coach Kenneth Blakeney, whose team went 4-29 in his first season in 2019-20, substituted hockey-style in the first half with five-man units to keep his team fresh. The Bison’s game against Kentucky in November, a 95-63 loss, gave them a taste of this level of competition, but the Middle East Athletic Conference champions couldn’t match the speed and athleticism the Jayhawks boast.
The Jayhawks won the regular-season title in a crowded conference, a testament to Self’s acumen and the versatility of this team led by Big 12 player of the year in Wilson, a rising star in Dick, the transfer from Texas Tech. McCullar and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at point guard Harris.
Dick went 7-for-13 from the floor and 3-for-5 from 3-point range to set the Kansas freshman record for 3-pointers in a season, surpassing Jeff Boschee.
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Blakeney raved in his news conference Wednesday about Howard’s rich and fascinating history, repeating a list of famous alumni that includes vice president Kamala Harris, class of 1986. She watched the game with her husband from a suite at the Wells Fargo Arena. When she showed it to him on the video panel, the boos (Kansas is a Republican-leaning state, after all) drowned out the applause.
Dick was startled by a sudden roar from the crowd a split second after he made a free kick late in the first half. What’s the fuss? The end of the Furman-Virginia game was on the video board above the court, and JP Pegues had just hit a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining to give the underdog Paladins the lead. Another protest came when No. 13 seed Furman sealed the victory, a less disruptive reaction because it was during the timeout.