Mario Chalmers stood on the Ford Center court late Sunday afternoon, next in line to climb the ladder and take a snip out of the south net.
"We are fighters," Chalmers said defiantly, referring to a Kansas University basketball team that erased a 22-point deficit and scratched and clawed its way to an 88-84 overtime Big 12 tournament championship victory over Texas.
It's the same Texas team that led KU by 15 points on March 3 in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks rallied to victory that day, as well.
"We'll play hard every day. We are never going to give up. We'll always come back. I'm loving this. Now I'm ready to cut me a piece of net," exclaimed Chalmers, whose three with 15 seconds left tied the score at 79 and ultimately forced overtime after Kevin Durant (37 points) missed a well-guarded baseline jumper with two ticks to play.
KU, which minutes after the game was rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament and first-round matchup against either Florida A&M; or Niagara at 6:10 p.m. Friday in Chicago, outscored the Longhorns, 9-5, in overtime and capped the biggest comeback in Jayhawk history.
The Jayhawks, who were down 32-10 with 8:10 left in the half, trailed UCLA by 19 points before rallying to beat the Bruins, 85-70, in 1995 in Allen Fieldhouse.
"Anytime you can be part of history, it's amazing," said Russell Robinson. His 15-footer with 2:19 left in overtime broke an 81-81 tie and gave the Jayhawks the lead for good. He also cashed two free throws with 5.3 ticks left, upping an 86-84 lead to insurmountable four-point margin.
"It shows how tough we are. I think a year ago we may have come back, but would not have finished it off like that. It shows how mature and confident we've become," Robinson added.
It took a lot of big plays to subdue the Longhorns and, more specifically, Durant, whose 37 points tied for 10th most by an opponent in KU history.
"Was that the biggest comeback in KU history?" KU coach Bill Self asked after shaking the hands of well wishers on the court during a wild victory celebration.
"Good thing we cut it off at 22. I don't think we could have come back from 23," he cracked.
"It shows you how good KU basketball has been to not get behind by 22. It was great to do it in this setting."
The Jayhawks, who had suspect defense early came up with some big defensive plays late.
Brandon Rush, who along with Julian Wright was named to the all-tournament team, blocked D.J. Augustin's shot from the corner with a minute left in OT, KU up by three. Later, KU still up by three, Darnell Jackson blocked Augustin's drive to the hoop and cupped the ball in his hands.
After getting fouled, Jackson swished two free throws to give KU the 86-81 advantage, immediately sliced two points after a three by A.J. Abrams at 8.3 seconds.
"We call it 'strong help,'" Self said of Jackson helping on the baseline. "Darnell made a great play and made the free throws. Our free-throw shooting (20 of 23) saved us today. Many nights it's hurt us."
Jackson, who grew up in Oklahoma City, had six points and seven boards in 26 minutes, playing on a day Darrell Arthur went just 12 minutes because of a bruised pelvic bone suffered two minutes into in the second half.
"I don't feel like a hero. I'm no hero," Jackson said. "We don't have one hero on the team. I'm just glad I got the block and made the free throws. I stepped up there and said, 'I've got to make them.'
After Robinson's two free throws upped KU's lead to 88-84, Durant missed a jumper at :02, the clock running out and giving regular-season champ KU another title.
Wright, who had 19 points off 8-of-13 shooting (Sherron Collins was leading scorer with 20 off 8-of-18 shooting; Rush potted 19 and Chalmers 17), raised two hands in the air at midcourt then minutes later hugged Jackson during the awards ceremony.
87.0 Kansas' free-throw percentage against Texas66.0Kansas' season free-throw percentage before Sunday22 Texas' biggest lead, at in the first half5 KU's largest lead, with 6:06 remaining in regulation5, 3 Overtime games played by Texas, KU this season3-0 Kansas' record in overtime games this season2-3 Texas' record in OT contests this season1/4Seeds given to Kansas/Texas for the NCAA Tournament
"I said, 'We did it,'" Wright said. "We believe in each other. We didn't get worried. We knew Texas would come out on fire against us. They like coming out the first four minutes and being unstoppable.
"We practice being down, every day. We have situations where we are down four, five, six points and fight to get back the lead. Coach knows we can come back. Every time out he says, 'chip at it, chip at it.'''
KU is good at chipping at leads of the Longhorns, who dropped to 24-9 compared to KU's 30-4 mark.
"They don't like to guard that much," Robinson noted. "So you know you can get back in the game. It's a matter of everybody playing their part, stepping up and making plays. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
As is Self, who, though proud, admitted, "trust me we don't want to get down 22 again. The thing is ... our defense was terrible early. But I need to look at the film. Was it us or him (Durant)? He's the best I've ever seen."
This might have been one of the best games Self has seen.
"It was a fun game to coach and play in," Self said. "What a great atmosphere. To me there wasn't that much pressure in the game today. The pressure was getting to today. I just think it was a great game to be part of, a great great day."