Grind to Win: Kansas Takes Utah in Final Seconds, 63-60
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Massive scoring runs made for surprises, but the defensive power made it the top-15, hold-your-breath matchup worth watching as No. 10/10 Kansas outlasted No. 13/14 Utah, 63-60, Saturday afternoon inside Sprint Center.
Facing its fourth-top-25 team in nine games, Kansas (8-1) blew out Utah (7-2) in the opening half – then was outscored by 15 points in the second period – before extending its win streak to seven games and collecting its 25th win in 30 all-time games at Sprint Center.
The tale of two halves saw Utah completely wipe out its 21-point deficit and force a Jayhawk team that shot 60 percent in the first half to rely almost entirely on free throws in the second. In a meeting between two of the best defenses in their respective conferences, the 28 combined turnovers were almost to be expected. The Utes entered the afternoon leading the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense and rebounding margin, while KU’s field-goal percentage defense has paced the Big 12 in two of the last three years.
Junior forward Jamari Traylor scored 13 points
in KU’s seventh-straight win.Junior forward Perry Ellis led the way with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, with 11 of those points coming in the first half. In his first game back, junior forward Jamari Traylor made a major impact with 13 points and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Frank Mason III rounded out the leaders with 10 points and five assists. The difference, however, was at the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Brannen Greene, the hero of the Georgetown game with five three-pointers, made his mark with a perfect 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line in the final 20 seconds of the game. In fact, Mason, Traylor, Greene and Kelly Oubre, Jr., each were perfect from the line, helping Kansas to season-best 91.3 free throw percentage. When KU hit just six of their 23 second-half shots, free throws saved the game.
Kansas looked to have broken the spell of a Utah team that had scored 90+ points three times already this season and came to Kansas City riding a six-game win streak of its own. The Jayhawks were fantastically efficient in the first half, knocking down 12 of their 20 shots and forcing the Utes to commit 10 turnovers and record just one assist. When the Jayhawks went to the locker room leading 39-21, KU appeared to have the plans in place to run away with it.
Utah Preseason All-American, senior guard Delon Wright, refused to accept the blowout fate. He led all scorers with 23 points, drilling 9-of-13 from the floor. He shot 80 percent in the second half to turn to the Utes’ 42-21 deficit into a 55-53 lead. The Pac-12’s most efficient shooter, 7-0 freshman center Jakob Poeltl, finished with eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Each team’s respective leading scorers, Wright for Utah and Ellis for Kansas, chalked up the first two buckets apiece. Shots of any kind were hard to come by as the teams combined for nine turnovers just five minutes in, but the Utes used those to their advantage. They recorded their first 10 points all on Jayhawk miscues en route to a 10-4 early lead.
In their last outing at Georgetown, the Jayhawks proved lethal from long range. Already finding themselves behind against Utah, KU shooters again turned to the perimeter. Ellis and sophomore guard Wayne Selden, Jr., connected on threes to knot the score at 12-12. When Selden hit his second of the game and the Jayhawks forced two more Ute turnovers, the home-away-from-home team had turned a 10-4 deficit into an explosive 27-17 lead.
As Kansas’ offense got hot, Utah’s cooled nearly completely. In the last 10 minutes of the first period, the Utes hit just two of their next 14 attempts, allowing 12-straight Jayhawk points. After trailing 10-4, Kansas went on a 35-9 run over the next 15 minutes to take an unexpected 39-19 lead. Wright’s dunk with 36 seconds until halftime broke Utah’s scoring drought and sent the teams to halftime with Kansas up, 39-21.
The Utes entered the matchup as the best shooting team in the Pac-12 and the 10th-best in the country, yet the Jayhawks held them to a 34.6 field-goal efficiency in the opening 20 minutes. Additionally, Utah’s three-point percentage ranks second in the Pac-12 and top-25 in the NCAA, but Kansas forced the visitors to a 0-for-7 effort in the first half.
In a top-15 matchup, however, KU’s stellar/Utah’s brutal first half couldn’t last. While Kansas came out of the break for an immediate three-point play from Traylor, the Jayhawks wouldn’t score again for more than four minutes. Meanwhile, facing their largest deficit of the season (42-21), the Utes started grinding towards a comeback. They spouted off a 12-0 run to slice the Jayhawk lead back to single digits, 42-33.
The turn of events was 180 degrees. Utah came out of the lockerroom shooting 70 percent, while Kansas hovered over the 30 percent mark. Utah guards Kenneth Ogbe and Brandon Taylor, who registered just two points apiece in the first half, combined for 12 points not even eight minutes into the final frame. The lead shrunk further, 48-42. Dakari Tucker, who was held scoreless in the first half, connected on the three-pointer that put his Utes within five. When Wright came up with six-straight points the lopsided first half was completely wiped away.
Now tied at 53-53, the stage was set for a final five minutes worthy of a top-15 matchup.
Utah struck first with a layup by Poeltl, giving the Utes their first lead since the 10:01 mark of the first half at 55-53. Though Kansas was drowning under six-straight missed shots, the Jayhawks’ massive first-half cushion kept them in the game. Where shots wouldn’t fall, free throws still would. Mason stayed perfect at 4-for-4 from the line to tie the score, 55-55.
Two-and-a-half to play.
Out of the Utah timeout, Kansas got the stop of the game as the Jayhawks forced a shot-clock violation. Ellis used it for a floater the in the lane to return the lead to his team, 57-55. On the ensuing possession, Mason’s first steal of the game accounted for back-to-back Utah turnovers.
One minute to play.
Scrapping under the basket for the loose ball, Traylor was fouled and sent to the line for the one-and-one. Again, free throws didn’t fail the Jayhawks. Traylor hit them both. The Utes had an answer – as all good opponents do – and Tucker attacked with a three-pointer to cut the lead to one, 59-58.
Thirty seconds to play.
Under pressure, Greene hit four-straight free throws in the final 20 seconds. His calm amidst the chaos shut the door on the Utes, 63-60.
Kansas will take a week off for final exams before hosting Lafayette on Saturday, Dec. 20, at 2 p.m., in Allen Fieldhouse. The game will be televised on Jayhawk IMG Network/ESPN3/ESPN Full Court. KU will then play at Temple on Monday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 and return home to Allen Fieldhouse for a Dec. 30 game versus Kent State at 7 p.m., on Jayhawk IMG Network/ESPN3/ESPN Full Court.
KU STARTERS (Season/Career Starts): So. G Frank Mason, III (9/12), So. G Wayne Selden, Jr. (9/44), So. G Brannen Greene (2/2), Jr. F Perry Ellis (9/46), So. F Landen Lucas (7/7)
SERIES INFO: Kansas leads 2-0
ATTENDANCE: 17,627 (18,756 capacity)
- Extended KU’s win streak to seven-straight games, matching its longest win streak of last season.
- Makes four-straight contests where KU has won by six points or fewer.
- Made the Jayhawks 8-1 for the second time in the last three seasons and the sixth time in Bill Self’s 12 seasons at Kansas.
- Improved Kansas’ lead in the all-time series to 2-0.
- Bettered Kansas’ record to 5-1 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse this season.
- Upped the Jayhawks’ all-time record to 25-5 at Sprint Center and 210-79 in games played in Kansas City.
- Gave Bill Self his first against Utah, making him 1-1 vs. the Utes, 333-70 at Kansas and 540-175 overall.
- Made KU’s all-time record 2,134-823.
- Kansas’ 63 points tied for the second-fewest points scored by the Jayhawks in Sprint Center. KU scored 60 points in a 61-60 loss to UMass on December 13, 2008 and scored 63 points in a one-point victory over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament on March 10, 2011.
- Against the Pac-12’s best field-goal percentage defense, Kansas shot 60-percent in the first half, but was limited to 26.1-percent in the second half.
- Kansas has hit 20+ free throws in three-straight games, a feat the team did not accomplish last season.
- KU went 21-of-23 (91.3 percent) from the free-throw line for the game, marking the squad’s best percentage from the charity stripe this year. Over the last three games, Kansas has shot 73-87 from the line for 83.9 percent.
- Kansas set season lows in: field goal attempts (48), FT attempts (23), total rebounds (28), offensive rebounds (7) and defensive rebounds (21).
- The Jayhawks lost the opening tip for the first time on the season. Seven-foot Utah center, Jakob Poeltl ended KU’s streak of eight-consecutive tip-offs controlled.
- KU went 5-for-8 from three-point range in the first half, marking the fifth time the Jayhawks have tallied five or more treys in a half this year.
- Utah’s 21 first half points were the fewest Kansas has allowed in an opening half since holding Texas Tech to 19 in the first frame on March 5, 2014.
- Kansas went 10-10 from the FT line in the first half. It’s the first time KU has been perfect from the line in a half since going 10-10 in the first half against Oklahoma at home (1/14/08).
- Utah entered the game as the second-best three-point shooting squad in the Pac-12. Kansas skunked them (0-7) in the first half. The Utes first connected from downtown with 17:48 in the second.
- For the second-consecutive game, Kansas held a lead at the half, only to give it up. When Delon Wright hit two FT’s at the 4:57 mark, Utah completed a 32-11 run to make-up the 21-point deficit. Moments later, a layup by Jakob Poeltl pushed Utah ahead 55-53 with 4:32 remaining in the game. This marked the largest lead Kansas has blown this year.
- Utah’s 39-second half points tied for the most points scored by a Jayhawk opponent this year.
- In the final 5:00 of the game, Kansas went 8-8 from the line to seal the victory.
- Sophomore G Brannen Greene made his second start of the season, and his career, on Saturday. After his career-high 19-point performance in his last time out, Greene sunk four pressure-filled FT’s to push the Jayhawks to the finish line. He remains perfect from the line on the season (13-13).
- Junior F Perry Ellis scored in double-figures for the seventh-straight contest, eighth time this season, and 38th time in his career.
- Ellis was the first on the KU roster to record double-digit points, making it the fifth time this season.
- Junior F Jamari Traylor tallied a season-best 13 points, his first double-digit scoring effort on the year, including two clutch FT’s in the game’s waning moments.
- Freshman G Kelly Oubre, Jr., set a new career-best in points, with nine.
- Sophomore G Wayne Selden, Jr., went 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, marking the fifth game this year he has connected on multiple treys.
- Sophomore G Frank Mason III recorded 10 points on the afternoon, making that 14 career games in double-figures. He has now tallied at least one three-pointer in seven of his nine outings this season. He also tied a season-high two steals and recorded the third block of his career (second of the season).
POSTGAME QUOTES KANSAS
Kansas head coach Bill Self
On KU’s response to giving up a 21-point lead:
“Well if you’re going to blow a 21-point lead, I guess I like the way we responded. We played pretty well the first half guarding them and making shots. (It was a) Tale of two halves, they played much better than us obviously in the second half. You guys know better than me but it had to be 15, 16 minutes where we scored about nine points; just awful. And then we made some plays late. We actually did play well down the stretch, the last four minutes we were pretty good.”
On playing without Devonte’ Graham:
“I don’t think that was a huge factor in us not playing in the second half. It’s going to be a factor moving forward because our team is different than any other team we’ve had since I’ve been here, we don’t throw it to the post and score. We’re not very big, and our two biggest guys have a hard time in there, they haven’t developed that yet so we’ve got to find different ways to manufacture points. We’re not doing it off our defense and we’re not doing it in transition. Now the guy (Frank Mason III) that can really create for you in transition has to play 36 minutes a game. So it’s going to be a situation where we’ve got to kind of redefine who we are. We won some games playing the way we have, which is fine, but the next three weeks we’ve really got to do some things to get better for conference play. But it’s too bad about Devonte’. We hope we can get him back. There is no guarantee that he’s going to come back, so we’ll just play it by ear and re-evaluate him in about four weeks.”
On KU’s wild swings of momentum in recent games:
“It’s not good for coaches at all. I’ll say this about our team; we can screw up a good time about as well as anybody I’ve ever seen. We’re playing for one shot and we catch the ball out-of-bounds. Just things that are not very good from a basketball standpoint, but we’ve been a team that has really labored and has not played well, and we’ve been a team where we play well and look pretty good like we did the first half tonight. We’ve got to become more consistent. Our league is so good, but Utah would finish very high in our league, so that’s not taking anything away from Utah at all, but our league is so good that if you have scoring droughts of five or six minutes, the game’s over. We’ve got to find some way to manufacture and generate points by putting pressure on people and certainly that has not been the case here of late.”
On sending the ball more often into the post:
“A lot of teams don’t play that way. A lot of teams live and die by the jumper, driving it, spreading it; but that’s the way we’ve always played. We’ve got to do some things to create driving lanes and things like that. We don’t have an unbelievable driving team, but Wayne (Selden, Jr.) and Frank (Mason III) should be able to get better. Kelly (Oubre, Jr.) was really good tonight and will be able to help us in that regard. And playing Jamari (Traylor) at the 5, at least he’s always going to be quicker than any 5 man he has. I’ve even thought about making him the backup point guard, I’m being dead serious, if we played him and he initiated the offense, there would be no one that could apply pressure because he could drive around anybody. Not be the point guard that comes up and sets it up, but just bring it in transition and do some things like that. We’ve got to become more creative because it’s going to totally wear Frank down if he has to do everything every possession.”
On having to redefine the team:
“We’ve been bad before, we’re not bad now. There’s been some teams, that team that went to the National Championship game, you guys remember when Davidson whipped us here, and UMass has beaten us here, I love playing over here, but we haven’t exactly excelled in the Sprint Center during the regular season. What we’ve always done is whatever we’ve done – we try to get a lot better at doing what we do. I don’t think it’s the kids’ fault, I think it’s something we’ve got to come up with a way to help them more than us doing better at what we do. We’ll come up with something. It won’t be a major deal, but we’ve got to do some things to get them to believe that what we do works. Right now, if we’ve got a 6-10 guy you just play dead behind in the post, there’s no advantage. That hasn’t been the case with the big guys we’ve played in the past.”
Kansas junior forward Perry Ellis
On the nine quick points early in the game then getting doubled teamed the rest:
“They defintely threw some double teams and stuff. They were a lot more aggressive but all that matters is we came out with the win. That’s all that I am happy about.”
On the differences he saw with the team between the first half and second half:
“Defensively we weren’t as assertive as we were (in the first half), we weren’t getting those stops that we needed to get like we were getting in the first half and I say that was the key difference.”
On why you have shot free throws so well this year:
“I mean we have been shooting them on our own. When were not in on a play in practice, we go shoot some when we aren’t involved so that’s the key.”
On the tough six-game stretch against quality opponents and going 6-0 and what it’s been like for the team:
“It’s great. I mean it’s definitely been tough and we have been fighting and working hard, that’s what we want to do. It’s just building our confidence more and more, we just want to keep on doing that and get better.”
Kansas junior forward Jamari Traylor
On not playing Wednesday, how frustrating that was:
“It’s never good when you’re in that position. I made a mistake so I just wanted to come out and do better this time around and this game. I wanted to impact the game I couldn’t last time”
On if this game will help his confidence:
“Definitely, I had a really good game. I am looking past being suspended and all that stuff and ready for the next game”
On if he was nervous shooting those late free throws:
“No, I wasn’t nervous at all. I just got down there, did my routine and knocked them down. The guys really made a difference at the free-throw line today. I feel like we didn’t really miss any and I think that was the deciding factor about the game that we made so many. Credit to the guys stepping to the line and making shots.”
POSTGAME QUOTES UTAH
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak
On the differences between the defensive strategy from first half to the second half:
“We ran some different plays in the second half. I think we had more movement with pick and rolls, and got the ball bouncing a little bit more. We were pretty stagnant in the second half, credited to a lot of their length. Obviously, it was difficult to find any rhythm offensively to start with. I thought we opened up the game pretty well but momentum is a big thing, as witnessed in this game. We lost our ability to score in the first half. I’m pretty proud of the moral victory aspect of it. It’s hard for me to sit up here and be as disappointed as I would be if it’s just a first-half game, because our guys bounced back two points at a time. It’s the old cliché of there’s no 19-point play, but it was a heck of a second half. I just wish we had one or two of those plays back.”
On the defensive keys in the second half:
“At the end of the day, I just didn’t think we were playing hard enough. There were a number of open shots without a hand up. We knew everything they were going to run, our coaches did an excellent job with the scouting report and heard a bunch of the calls and knew what was coming. We managed to outrebound Kansas, which has been a focal point for us, rebounding wise. We’re in a position now, where we’ve gone on the road this season to San Diego State, who doesn’t get whipped up on the glass, and neither does Kansas very often, so I’m proud of that. We got them to miss shots in the second half and limited them to just the one shot. Overall, I think it was just the mindset and playing a little harder.”
On the assertiveness of Delon (Wright):
“It’s been a lot of what I’ve seen for a year and a half now. He likes big games and I think he rises to a different level for us when he’s in this type of environment. I thought he was the one guy, with no disrespect to the rest of our team, that was ready to play from the beginning. He had a look in his eye that he wanted to be here. It was really important to him, and to be able to do (what he did) in the second half means a great deal to me and our basketball program, and it’s a good step.”
On the last play of the game:
“Well they’re physical. It was the same play we tried running earlier in the game, we needed a three. I thought there was enough time in the previous trip down to take a quick two and get our self in that situation. But they made free throws when they had to and we’ve struggled making free throws. At the end of the day, we maybe catch a break with a free throw missed, or two, but as witnessed (Kansas was) 21-23, I think most coaches would take that. It was just one of our many sets to get Dakari (Tucker) a look. You know, you don’t want to get Jakob (Poeltl) a look but we did manage to get a second shot at it, and we’ll move on.”
Utah freshman forward Jakob Poeltl
On his feelings on the game:
“It’s kind of frustrating. We definitely could’ve won the game. It was a great comeback and we fought toward the end and I’m proud of the team. It’s still frustrating in the end that it is just a loss. We could’ve done so much better.”
On Kansas’s run in the first half and Utah’s perspective:
“It was energy. We got sloppy on defense. We gave them some easy baskets and open looks. They got on a run and we didn’t stop it. In the second half we were able to turn it around. Next time we need to do that for 40 minutes not 20. “
On stopping Perry Ellis:
“We did a lot of game prep on him. We could’ve done that for 40 minutes, or for more than we did, but like I said, we were sloppy on defense in the first half. He had opportunities to score. He’s a good player and he is going to use those opportunities if you give them to him.”
On playing Kansas:
“We fought to the end and it was a great game. We played 25 to 30 minutes of great basketball. We have to do that for 40 minutes to compete with the really big teams.”
On making adjustments to opponents’ defense:
“I’m working on my offensive game everyday. I’m just trying to learn more stuff and get new weapons to counter when the defense focuses on me. They are starting to play me more physically, I have to fight it, roll against it and take my chances.”
On Jamari Traylor’s and Cliff Alexander’s physicality:
“I feel like I didn’t have many problems with how physical they were. I just wasn’t able to get my shots were I wanted them. Part of it was me, and bad offensive execution by all of us on the team.”
On Coach Kryskowiak’s postgame message:
“He said he was really proud of how we fought back, but we should think about doing that for the whole game. If we want to be a good team, we will have to do that for the whole game.”
On playing two Kansas teams, Wichita State and KU:
“Kansas is a more physical team and Wichita State is more offensively-minded and execute better on defense. They were very disciplined and solid. Kansas has some great individual players that are very strong and physical. “
Utah senior guard Delon Wright
On his first-half dunk:
“I just went to the basket. I’ve been told to take it the basket and I just tried to put it down.”
On energy and feeling “locked in.”:
“I was locked in. Our last big game I wasn’t prepared and I hurt our team, so this time I tried to come out, be aggressive, and hope the guys matched my energy.”
On Kansas’s run in the first half:
“I feel like we had a drop-off in energy and we didn’t play as hard. We weren’t making shots or playing defense.”
On his own dunk being a turning point for the team:
“Yeah, I think the guys saw that I was ready to play and they tried to follow along.”
On the team’s halftime discussions:
“We talked about getting back to how we needed to play, keeping the energy up and rebounding on both ends.”
On the key to the second-half comeback/momentum:
“We locked down on defense and tried to play hard. I definitely felt [the momentum]. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that we were down by six and I thought, ‘we are back in this’. “
On keeping team spirit high when down by 21:
“It’s just to keep chipping away at the score. Coach came in at halftime and said, ‘just two points at a time’. We still felt confident even after they hit that three point play to start the half.”
On their defense in the second half:
“We rebounded better and just played better. A big success was playing harder and stronger.”
On their feelings about the game as a whole:
“We’re not going to win every game, but I’m proud that we fought back and did not let the game get out of hand.”
On the last play:
“We tried to go for a three, but Kansas took it away. We were able to find the open shot, but we’ll work on it.”
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