Kasnas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The 13th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks will attempt to right the ship, as the take on the New Mexico Lobos at the Sprint Center in the Kansas City Shootout on Saturday.
Bill Self's Jayhawks are an extremely young team and it has showed of late. After winning five straight games to start the 2013-14 campaign, Kansas has fallen in three of its last four outings, including recent back-to-back setbacks to Colorado (75-72) and Florida (67-61).
Craig Neal's first season in Albuquerque has gotten off to a fast start, with his Lobos winning seven of their first eight games. The lone loss came to Massachusetts in the Charleston Classic on Nov. 22, but the team has reeled off four straight wins since, including a 63-54 victory over Cincinnati last time out.
These two teams are meeting for the just the third time. The first two matchups took place back in 1963 and 1964, with each team winning one game.
New Mexico has proved to be an extremely balanced and dangerous team at both ends of the court this season. The Lobos are currently averaging an impressive 81.6 ppg, while limiting foes to just 71.0 ppg. The team has also enjoyed a +9.0 rebounding margin, while ranking 11th nationally in blocked shots (6.9 per game). New Mexico boasts of a trio of prolific scorers. Senior forward Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250) and junior center Alex Kirk (7-0, 250) are a formidable duo in the low post. Bairstow is shooting over 55 percent from the floor and is averaging 19.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Kirk pours in 18.6 ppg and is tops on the team in rebounding (10.4 rpg) and blocked shots (27). Backcourt balance comes in the form of senior guard Kendall Williams (19.1 ppg), who shoots 50 percent from the floor and 85.5 percent from the free-throw line, while leading the team in assists (5.8 apg).
It wasn't a typical offensive performance for New Mexico last time out, but the team turned in a stellar effort at the other end of the court to earn a nine-point win over Cincinnati last weekend. Bairstow accounted for a good portion of the scoring, finishing with a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds. Kirk added 15 points and six boards to the cause, while Williams finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Despite the low scoring output, the Lobos still shot an even 50 percent from the floor, while holding the Bearcats to just a 29.5-pecent clip.
For just the seventh time in Self's 11 years at the helm, Kansas has dropped back-to-back games. The starting five against the Gators featured four freshmen, and Florida took advantage, going on a huge run in the first half, resulting in a 15-point halftime lead for the Gators. The Jayhawks played better after intermission, but weren't able to earn a win. Freshman star Andrew Wiggins had his strongest game to date, finishing with a career-high 26 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his first career double-double. No other Jayhawk managed double figures in scoring, with fellow freshman Frank Mason posting nine points to lead all other scorers on the roster.
Despite the team's lack of wins lately, Kansas remains a highly efficient squad at the offensive end of the floor, averaging 77.1 ppg, and doing so on just under 50 percent shooting (.498). The team owns a +6.9 rebounding advantage, but suffers from a -2.6 turnover margin, averaging 14 miscues per game. Wiggins hasn't been electrifying on a regular basis, but he still leads the team in scoring (16.4 ppg), while making an impact on the boards (6.1 rpg). Sophomore Perry Ellis (13.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is the only other Jayhawk currently averaging double digits, although Mason (9.1 ppg), Joel Embiid (8.9 ppg) and Wayne Selden Jr. (8.6 ppg) aren't far off the mark.