Jayhawks’ Self, Ducks’ Altman set to match wits


The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bill Self and Dana Altman first matched wits more than two decades ago, when Self was trying to turn around tiny Oral Roberts and Altman was attempting the same in his first season at Creighton.

The young coaches combined to win 17 games that season.

My, how far they’ve come.

Both eventually succeeded in their rebuilding jobs, to the point they kept getting bigger and more glamorous offers elsewhere. Self would head off to Tulsa and Illinois before arriving at Kansas, where he has the top-seeded Jayhawks one game away from his third Final Four, while Altman would one day land at Oregon, which takes on Kansas tonight.

Neither coach could have imagined it when they faced off that November night in 1994.

“I’ve known Bill for a very long time,” Altman conceded, pointing out they were also assistants in the Big Eight before becoming head coaches. “Bill has a way of getting the best out of each of his team. … He’s always been at great programs and made them better.”

This may be his best, too — better even than his 2008 national title team.

The top-seeded Jayhawks (31-5) roared into the Midwest Regional final with an average margin of victory of 30 points, dusting aside Big Ten champion Purdue on Thursday night. They played at such a high level in the second half that Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, always willing to give credit where it’s due, stopped just short of calling the Jayhawks invincible.

Frank Mason III has become the front-runner for national player of the year. Devonte Graham has poured in 3-pointers at a record-setting rate. And star freshman Josh Jackson has brushed off his many off-the-court issues to send his NBA draft stock soaring.

Oh, and the Jayhawks get to play No. 3 seed Oregon at Sprint Center, the glass-enclosed downtown arena that happens to sit about 40 minutes from their campus in Lawrence.

“We know we have a tough game ahead of us,” Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey said Friday. “They’re going to have a homecourt advantage. We just have to be ready, keep taking it game by game.”

The Ducks (32-5) have done a sublime job of that so far.

Whereas Kansas has run roughshod through the first three rounds, the Ducks cruised past Iona before running into trouble. It took a heart-stopping final few minutes to put away Rhode Island last weekend, and a missed 3-pointer by Michigan at the buzzer to survive Thursday night.

But now, they sit on the precipice of their first Final Four since winning the 1939 title, and Altman sits one game away from reaching the first national semifinal of his career.

“Dana and I have known each other a long time,” Self said. “We know that [today] is going to be a highly competitive game. We’ve been fortunate we’ve played consistently well, but it’s going to take another effort like that to advance.”

As the Jayhawks and Ducks prepare to meet, and Self and Altman match wits with more at stake than ever before, here are some of the key story lines:

∫ MIRROR IMAGES: Kansas and Oregon both prefer to play at a quick tempo, utilizing three or four guards without a true center, and have an abundance of experience. The Ducks even have a stretch four-man in Dillon Brooks, just like the Jayhawks have in Jackson, and it’s possible the two stars will be going at each other one-on-one much of the night.

∫ BEEN THERE BEFORE: Kansas lost to Villanova in the Elite Eight a year ago, while Oregon fell in the same round to Oklahoma. Both teams have used those losses as motivation. “It was tough, trying to get over that game,” Graham said, “but we’re back here again and excited to be here.”

∫ ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Due to geography, Kansas and Oregon rarely bump into each other when they’re chasing recruits. But Self admitted the Jayhawks desperately wanted Dorsey before the sophomore point guard chose Oregon. “We liked him a lot,” he said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t like us as much.”

∫ TOUGH SCOUT: The 48 hours between semifinals and finals means a condensed scouting period, and that could be to Oregon’s benefit. The Ducks play a variety of defenses, sometimes switching between zones and man-to-man every trip down floor. “We can’t let that affect us,” Mason said. “It can kind of confuse us sometimes, but Coach always says, ‘Let the mismatches come naturally.’”

∫ THE SERIES: The Jayhawks are 4-3 against the Ducks and, more importantly, beat them in their only NCAA Tournament meeting. That was in the 2002 regional finals in Madison, Wisconsin. Kansas went on to lose to eventual champion Maryland at the Final Four in Atlanta.

By Paul Wager

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