By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Kansas coach Bill Self wasn’t in the arena for an NCAA tournament opener at Des Moines, Iowa, but guard Kevin McCullar, Jr. was.
With San Antonio’s McCullar returning to the lineup after sitting out a Big 12 title-game loss to Texas, the top-seeded Jayhawks stormed to a 96-68 victory over the Howard University Bison Thursday in a round-of-64 West region game.
The victory allowed the top-seeded Jayhawks to advance to play the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks in the round of 32 on Saturday. Arkansas downed ninth-seeded Illinois, 73-63.
Self’s status for the next round remains in question following a heart procedure and hospitalization last week.
The setback caused him to miss last Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, a 76-56 loss to Texas in Kansas City.
Though he was released from a Kansas City-area hospital on Sunday, the two-time NCAA championship coach wasn’t on the bench for the Jayhawks as they took the floor in Des Moines for the tournament opener.
Led by assistant coach Norm Roberts, the Jayhawks steadied themselves after a shaky start, shot 52 percent from the field in a fast-paced game and blew out the Bison. Jalen Wilson scored 20 points and freshman Gradey Dick added 19 points and 11 rebounds for Kansas.
McCullar, a former standout at San Antonio’s Wagner High School, enjoyed a solid game across the board with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists. It was McCullar’s first NCAA tournament game with the Jayhawks after an offseason transfer from Texas Tech.
In his first season at Kansas, he was named to the Big 12’s all-defensive team and helped the Jayhawks to the conference’s regular-season title. Kansas finished 13-5 in conference, a game ahead of Texas and two games in front of Kansas State and Baylor.
A spirited run by the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders ended Thursday in Birmingham, Ala. The top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide, backed by a home-state crowd, blew out the Islanders 96-75 in the South region round of 64.
Islanders coach Steve Lutz, an East Central High School graduate, led his team to a 24-11 record and the first NCAA victory in school history.
Point guard Jalen Jackson, from Wagner, scored 22 on Tuesday night in a round-of-68 victory over the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at Dayton, Ohio. Jackson couldn’t get it going against the Crimson Tide, finishing with four points and three assists.