Sunday, February 4, 2007
Brandon Rush sat slumped in a corner of the interview room, admittedly deflated after a long - and what ultimately proved unproductive - College GameDay experience in Allen Fieldhouse.
"I'm a little frustrated. We should have won that game. We let one slip away there," Rush groaned after the No. 6 Jayhawks' 69-66 loss to No. 10 Texas A&M - a game in which the Jayhawks led by 11 points with 9:55 to play.
"It is very disappointing. We had the game."
The game, which gave the Aggies (19-3 overall, 7-1 Big 12) sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and dropped KU (19-4, 6-2) into a three-way tie for second with Kansas State and Texas, was stolen by A&M, which concluded with a 17-4 run.
The big play was Acie Law's three over Rush in the far corner that gave the Aggies a 67-66 lead with 25 seconds left. It was Law's first three in four tries and came against KU's best defender, who guarded Law the last eight minutes of the game.
That three immediately answered a driving three-foot bank shot by Julian Wright, which had busted a 64-all tie at :49.
"He thought I was going to drive it. I felt it was a good opportunity to go for the win," said Law, who finished with 23 points off 9-of-18 shooting with seven assists.
True enough. He "drove it" earlier when his bucket and free throw after a Rush foul with 1:38 left sliced KU's six-point lead to 64-61.
"I didn't think he'd shoot it," Rush said. "I thought he'd drive me. He hadn't made one (three) all day. I was laying off a bit. They say he's the best clutch player in the league. He proved it there."
KU's Mario Chalmers missed a floater in the lane with 5.2 seconds left. Law was hacked after the rebound and cashed two free throws with five seconds to play.
Chalmers missed a long possible game-tying three with two second remaining.
"He's the best player we played against all season," KU guard Russell Robinson said of Law. "He controlled his team and never let them get down."
KU coach Bill Self lauded Law, saying "one guy put them on his back" down the stretch.
"It's not where he gets you," Self said of Law canning threes. "Where he gets you is driving the ball, (but) up late (in the game) I sure wanted him to put the ball down."
The Jayhawks, who were led by Sherron Collins' 18-point effort, had plenty of opportunities to grab sole possession of first place in the league and happily cap a day of festivities with ESPN's GameDay crew in town.
Big moments came when Sasha Kaun - his nifty move inside gave KU a 62-52 lead at 6:41 - missed the front end of 1-and-1 free-throw situations at 3:52 (with KU up, 62-56) and 1:28 (with KU up 64-61).
"The whole thing is, they were big misses," Self said, "but also he'll be in that situation again. He has to have the confidence to go up and make them. We believe he will.
"He probably has not been in that position many times in his career. It's different shooting them in games than practice. It's unfortunate for us it happened, but you probably need your best players or who you feel are our most experienced players on the court late."
It appeared A&M coach Billy Gillispie told his players to foul Kaun on the second 1-and-1, but the Aggies claimed after the game that was not the strategy.
"Billy made a good play to foul him intentionally there, 'unintentional-intentional foul,'" Self said. "It was a good play. It's not what cost us. We had chances to get stops. We still had a two-point lead after Julian's basket."
Kaun didn't play the rest of the way after his second 1-on-1 miss.
"Sasha has been working on his free throws. He'll make some, miss some. We had ample opportunities to win the game," KU junior guard Robinson said.
But will KU have ample opportunities to win the league now? K-State (also 6-2) invades for an 8 p.m. tipoff Wednesday.
"We are certainly not in the driver's seat by any means," said Self, whose team led 35-30 at halftime and upped that to 38-30 early in the second half. "I'd say we still have an opportunity, but very little margin for error. We just need to worry about Wednesday."
His message to the team in the locker room?
"We let one get away, but we don't have any time to fret about it," Self said. "We'll play a pumped up Kansas State team coming in where obviously they look at this game and say, 'Hey they are somewhat vulnerable. They didn't hold serve at home.'''
No, it was game, set, match for A&M.
"It's very difficult to stomach," Robinson said. "We have to learn from it and make the most of our possessions early so it doesn't happen like that late again."
62-52KU's lead with 6:33 to play
17-4Texas A&M's game-closing run
42.1KU's field-goal percentage against the nation's best defense
34.9Opponents' field-goal percentage against A&M coming in
46.3A&M's field-goal percentage against KU
37.6Opponents' field-goal percentage against KU coming in
1-31Big 12 South's record in Allen Fieldhouse
3Teams (KU, K-State, Texas) tied for second behind A&M in the Big 12