ST. LOUIS -- With 7-foot center Joel Embiid unavailable because of a back injury, Kansas coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks must rely heavily on freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins to get them through their first two games to reach the Sweet 16 in the South Regional.
"I think he has a flair for the moment,'' Self said of Wiggins, who is averaging 17.4 points. "He's had a great freshman year. I do think he knows that for us to have a chance to fare well and make a good run, then he has to be much more aggressive and impact more possessions. If he impacts more possessions, then he will naturally score more.''
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Embiid, a native of Cameroon, might challenge Wiggins as the leading contender for the NBA's No. 1 draft pick. He's averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks and was named Big 12 defensive player of the year. But a stress fracture in his back definitely will force Embiid to miss the Jayhawks' opener against Eastern Kentucky (24-9) Friday and likely Sunday's game if Kansas (24-9) advances.
"He's the longest of long shots for this weekend,'' Self said of Embiid. "But that hasn't ruled out next weekend, and he's making progress in rehab. We're not pushing him at all. But we are optimistic we can get him on the practice court next week if we are fortunate enough to win two games.''
Without Embiid's shot-blocking, Kansas is 2-2 in the games he's missed.
"It does change because the mistakes we made before could be wiped away,'' Self said. "Now mistakes turn into layups. In the games we lost, teams shot a lot of easy baskets because we made the same mistakes, but he wasn't there to clean them up.''
Of course, Embiid might not have affected as many Eastern Kentucky shots because the Colonels love to shoot from three-point range, and they also like to force turnovers and score in transition. On defense, they will focus on stopping Wiggins.
"You have to deny him the ball and shut him out,'' Colonels guard Corey Walden said. "If he does get the ball, just crowd him, don't let him get an easy shot.''