No. 6 Kansas lands Nevada as substitute opponent

NCAA Men's Basketball

Reconstructing a schedule altered by the recent surge of COVID-19 infections was not foremost on the mind of Kansas coach Bill Self.

However, after the cancellation of a Dec. 21 game at Colorado and a notice from Harvard that it could not play Wednesday because of COVID-19 concerns and injuries, the Kansas administration began scrambling to find one more nonconference matchup.

Nevada (6-4), which had its Mountain West opener against San Jose State postponed, quickly accepted an offer to oppose No. 6 Kansas (9-1) on Wednesday at Lawrence, Kan. Both teams carry five-game win streaks.

“There will be other games canceled moving forward,” Self said. “There will be opportunities (to play another nonconference opponent) if that’s what we want to do. It might not be smart during conference play.”

Maybe not, but for a tune-up before the Jayhawks’ scheduled Big 12 opener Saturday against TCU, subbing Nevada into the schedule came as good news. Kansas most recently played on Dec. 18, a win over Stephen F. Austin. The Wolf Pack also have not played since Dec. 18, when they beat Loyola Marymount.

Kansas hopes to keep riding the flashy contributions provided thus far by Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. Agbaji explored early entry into the NBA draft before opting to return, while Braun has retooled his game to become a more complete player.

Agbaji has ranked among the nation’s top scorers all season; he is putting up 22 points per contest. Braun, meanwhile, does a little bit of everything, averaging 16.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He is shooting 62.6 percent from the floor, largely because of improved capacity to score off drives and fastbreaks.

The pair worked out in tandem during the summer, and Braun is especially excited by how Agbaji has dominated on offense.

“We spent a couple weeks working out together. It’s good to see what he worked on pay off,” Braun said. “What Ochai is doing is opening up the floor for everybody. Nobody is shocked at what he’s doing. That’s who Ochai is now.”

Nevada has rebounded from a 1-4 start. The Wolf Pack are led by Grant Sherfield, who has five consecutive scoring outputs of 20 or more points. Sherfield leads Nevada with averages of 20 points and 6.5 assists while chipping in 4.8 rebounds.

Sherfield, a Wichita State transfer who grew up in Wichita, Kan., before moving with his family to Texas when he was 13, credits Nevada coach Steve Alford for his recent surge.

“He’s always talking, always pushing me to get everything out of me,” Sherfield told Nevada SportsNet.

Sherfield has flourished while shooting 47 percent from the floor, including a 40.4 percent mark from 3-point range, and 86.7 percent from the foul line.

“I just love it. I love the big moments. I love the big shots,” Sherfield said. “I feed off it. I love the fans. I love packed gyms. I’ve just learned how to perform in the bright lights and the biggest moments. I’ve just learned how to soak it all in and just live in the moment and enjoy it.”

Nevada’s Desmond Cambridge Jr. averages 17.5 points and a team-high 1.6 steals.

–Field Level Media

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