SAN ANTONIO -- In the moments before the 1973 Belmont Stakes, a stable girl accidentally kicked a water bucket near Secretariat as the great horse waited to head to the track. According to onlookers, the startled colt reared up on his hind legs and whinnied repeatedly, seemingly jumping out of his skin. He went on to crush rival Sham and take the Triple Crown with a staggering 31-length win.
Kansas tried to downplay a quick pregame tunnel confrontation with Richmond prior to tonight's Southwest Region semifinal, but proverbial water bucket or not, the Jayhawks looked almost as unstoppable as America's greatest horse on that long-ago spring day. KU bolted out to a 31-9 lead on the Spiders and never looked back, cruising past the upstart No. 12 seed, 77-57.
So, did the pregame kerfuffle help the Jayhawks lock into their best form? Depends who you ask.
Head coach Bill Self said no: "Typical stuff, but it wasn't anything. And I didn't think there was any trash talking at all."
Guard Brady Morningstar was undecided: "I think it might have a little bit, but it's not something we should look forward to and try to do every game. ... It's sports, stuff like that happens. We don't judge Richmond. We don't judge ourselves."
Forward Markieff Morris? Count him as a yes vote: "I felt like they were too confident. I don't think they thought we were as good as we were. I'm not saying we're that good, but we're still Kansas at the end of the day and it's gonna be tough to beat us if we play hard. We're not gonna let no team like that disrespect us like that and take anything from us."
Whatever the cause, Kansas was dialed in from the opening tip. Richmond wasn't able to control tempo, wasn't able to find clean shots and wasn't able to keep Kansas from getting into the heart of its zone, creating both close-range shots and kickouts for open threes.
"[Kansas was] kind of able to dictate the game," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said afterward. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to slow them down in any way."
If you're a Kansas fan, this is what you wanted to see -- the No. 1 seed and arguably the best team in the nation laying the lumber on an inferior opponent early and never letting them up off the mat. And the edge with which Kansas played -- Morningstar was hit with a smack-talking technical foul and Thomas Robinson appeared to make a sharp hand gesture toward the Richmond supporters after a second-half KU breakaway dunk -- isn't necessarily a bad thing for a team that sometimes lets lesser opponents hang around too long. The Jayhawks saw Richmond was staggering, swiftly moved in for the KO ... and enjoyed it.
"It feels great, definitely in one of these types of games, a Sweet 16," Josh Selby said. "When you're beating a team, when you know they are frustrated, it feels great."
The Jayhawks will be a heavy favorite once again in Sunday's Southwest Regional final, with a trip to Houston on the line.
Note to VCU: Shhhhh.Don't wake up the beast.