The Kansas Jayhawks knocked off Omaha in their season opener Monday night, taking down the Mavericks 89-64.
It was a unique contest for KU in the sense that it was the first season debut for the Jayhawks since 2002 that didn’t feature Bill Self on the sideline.
Self is serving a four-game, self-imposed suspension in the wake of the NCAA’s infractions case against KU, so longtime assistant Norm Roberts took the reins for Monday’s tilt with Omaha.
That didn’t change what’s become the typical early season outcome for the Jayhawks, however, who won their 50th consecutive home opener with Monday’s 25-point victory.
Junior forward Jalen Wilson evoked an oft-quoted KU mantra to describe playing under Roberts as opposed to Self: Faces change, expectations don’t.
“We have the greatest coaching staff in America, so it doesn’t matter who’s up there leading us,” Wilson said.
Wilson flirted with a triple-double against Omaha, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting, adding 11 rebounds and seven assists. He was also the go-to option when the Jayhawks needed run-stopping baskets, both late into the first half and again when the deficit was cut to single digits in the second half.
“I thought Jalen was terrific,” Roberts said, adding: “He did a good job on the glass and he made some big baskets for us.”
The start to the 2022-23 season is much different for Wilson than how last year’s campaign began. After missing the first three games of last season for a suspension, he then struggled to get in a rhythm both offensively and defensively before eventually taking off in Big 12 play.
For Roberts, Wilson’s in a much better place this year.
“I think Jalen’s in a totally different mindset now,” Roberts said. “He’s so confident in himself in what he’s doing.”
Wilson was arguably KU’s most well-rounded contributor in the win, but it was freshman Gradey Dick who stole the show offensively. The Wichita native poured in a game-high 23 points on 9-of-13 from the floor, including a 4-of-6 performance from three-point range.
Dick committed to Kansas with enormous fanfare, and through two performances, albeit one being an exhibition game, so far he’s shown why he’s generated high expectations and why Self believes he could be one of the best shooters of this era.
This game meant something extra to Dick, too, having grown up a Jayhawks fan. He said it was a dream come true to finally get to play for Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I was growing up dreaming about this night and dreaming about guys before me and wanting to be in their shoes,” Dick said.
His shooting prowess and personality, in particular, have already excited the KU coaching staff.
“He doesn’t worry about anything, he’s just thinking about the next shot going in,” Roberts said. “I thought he had a really good night.”
Three other Jayhawks scored in double figures against the Mavericks, including 13 points from sophomore guard Bobby Pettiford, 11 points for junior guard Dajuan Harris and another 10 from senior guard Kevin McCullar.
As a team, KU shot 52.2% from the field for the game and 40.9% from three. Omaha was held to just 38.6% shooting and 23.8% from long range (5-of-21).
The Jayhawks will be back home on Thursday night to take on North Dakota State Bison, who lost their season-opening game to Arkansas 76-58. Thursday’s game is set for a 7:00 tip.
Click below to hear from Norm Roberts and the Jayhawks after KU’s 89-64 win over the Omaha Mavericks.