KANSAS CITY, MO. (KSNT) – KU men’s basketball won its first game of the Big 12 Tournament without head coach Bill Self. KU Athletics announced Self’s absence for the entirety of the tournament just hours before tip-off against West Virginia.

However, it’s always about the next man up. KU’s players took the floor as confidently as ever with assistant coach Norm Roberts at the helm.

“Not having coach is definitely a bummer,” Jalen Wilson said. “But, the coach that we have [Roberts] and the base that we have built as a team and the foundation we have is incredible. And coach [Self] wanted us to go out there and only think about winning and not think about him. And that was the beauty of the scene today, we had one goal in mind and that was winning, and it was great.”

KU relied heavily on its veteran players to lead the team without Self, but playing under Roberts is nothing new. Roberts served as interim head coach during the first four games of the 2022-23 season when Self was suspended.

“It was nice hearing that he was doing good,” freshman Gradey Dick said of Self. “We were used to coach at the start of the year, but it’s just easy when the whole staff begs for the same thing out of all of us. And that’s just to play our game and help play a role and just really buy in. And when everyone wants it for you, whoever’s in that role, you play the same for them.”

After the game, Wilson and KJ Adams both said playing for Self reminds them of last season’s “Just Load the Wagon” mentality. That phrase, which was coined in honor of Self’s late father, fueled KU’s title run less than a year ago.

“With Coach Self not being here, it kind of puts a little chip on our shoulder,” Adams said. “So just knowing that he’s watching us and always wants us to do better and just to make him proud today.”

KU moves on to play Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinals Friday at 6 p.m.