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The ball was hanging in the passing lane, just beyond his fingertips. Ben McLemore could see the play happening in front of him, and he began to jump toward the ball.
It was Sunday afternoon, and the Temple Owls had come into Allen Fieldhouse and pushed No. 6 Kansas around for most of the day. Now the Jayhawks were on the ropes, trailing by one point with 2:45 to play. In 37 minutes of basketball, Kansas hadn’t recorded one steal.
“My mindset was just get stops,” McLemore said.
In most cases, maybe it wouldn’t be up to a freshman to stalk the passing lane with the game on the line. But McLemore could see it. Temple was trying to get the ball to leading scorer Khalif Wyatt on the wing. And when the ball was in the air, McLemore took a chance.
In what seemed like an instant, McLemore came up with a game-changing steal and converted a transition dunk on the other end. The Jayhawks finally had their lead. Allen Fieldhouse began to shake. And McLemore couldn’t hear himself think.
“It’s a good thing I know how to read lips,” McLemore said. “… It was just crazy.”
…“I definitely was reading it,” McLemore said. “Because I knew they wanted to try to give him the ball.”
The steal gave KU its first lead in more than five minutes. In the ensuing possessions, Young would knock down four straight free throws and Withey came up with a huge block on the defensive end as the lead stretched to 62-58 with a minute to play.
Next came Releford’s three-pointer. And an emotional exhale from the 16,300 in the old building in Lawrence. For a month, the Jayhawks had played beautiful basketball, leaving a wake of overmatched teams on the hardwood in Lawrence. On Sunday, they had to be tough. And they were, especially when it counted.
“We played at a fairly high level the last month, and I kind of thought we were due a game like this,” Self said.
For what felt like the first time all season, Kansas was forced to play without one of its core players for a long stretch in the second half. Senior guard Travis Releford picked up his fourth foul with more than 15 minutes remaining, and he didn’t return until after the 7-minute mark.
Sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe was forced to log 19 minutes, and KU coach Bill Self also played freshman Andrew White III for three minutes to spell Ben McLemore (38 minutes) and Elijah Johnson (37 minutes).
“It’s tough,” Releford said. “I don’t do it often. So I just knew I had to stay focused, and once I got in there, not try to do too much. And not get another foul.”
Self said he had gotten on Releford at halftime for some sloppy play.
And when Releford returned, the Jayhawks trailed 54-50. They finished the game on a 19-8 run, with Releford knocking down a three with 37 seconds left.
“He got into me,” Releford said. “I can’t really relay the message … But he just let me know that I needed to change it.”
…KU senior Kevin Young, who finished a perfect six-of-six from the free throw line, entered the game shooting just 56 percent from the foul line. Young also added his first double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
KU has now won 30 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse. When coupled with its previous 69-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse from 2007-11, KU has won 99 out of 100 in Lawrence.
Elijah Johnson kept turning the ball over on offense, Kevin Young missed a couple easy shots around the rim, and Travis Releford was mired in foul trouble.
Little surprise that Temple had the sixth-ranked Jayhawks on the ropes.
…Temple coach Fran Dunphy eventually got a veteran group that starts three seniors to settle down, and the result was an 8-1 spurt that got the Owls right back in the game.
Wyatt led the charge by banking in a 3-pointer, and a basket by Lee - who had eight points and five boards by halftime - forced Self to call a timeout.
Self was only starting to simmer, though. He really boiled over a few minutes later, when Johnson committed his third turnover of the half. The coach slapped his hand against the video marquee at the scorer's table so hard that it knocked out a bank of lights.
...But when the final minutes starting ticking way, Kansas' savvy group of veterans finally kicked it into gear. Johnson scored on consecutive drives to the basket, Young made six straight foul shots and Releford sealed the deal with a shot-clock-beating 3-pointer from the wing.
After a tense Sunday afternoon, Kansas could finally celebrate a 69-62 victory.
"We didn't do what we were supposed to do early. That came back on the seniors, I want to say," said Johnson, who had five turnovers but also nine assists. "I thought we could have gotten our team riled up. ... It wasn't the way it was supposed to be done."
It was good enough.
Jeff Withey had perhaps the most impactful game of the Jayhawks' four senior starters. He only scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, but he also had 11 boards and nine blocks.
Young finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Releford had 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting, none of his baskets bigger than that 3 from the wing with 34.9 seconds left.
With the shot clock winding down, Releford's pull-up jumper with a hand in his face gave Kansas a 65-58 lead, essentially wrapping up the victory.
Ight Ku wins now c'mon on skins and my night made !
Kansas is now 1-0 all-time against A-10 schools whose football team is in the Big East West.
Good win KU #kubball
Guess hanging around after practice and getting some extra shots up with @T_2releFOUR paid off?? #iseeyoutrav!!
Best of the Best: This goes to the Allen Fieldhouse atmosphere. The deafening sound from 16,300 screaming fans created an electric atmosphere I’ll always remember. Covering a game at “The Phog” is by far one of my best experiences at a sporting event.
Allen Fieldhouse was filled to the rafters, the sound was deafening and Temple was hanging tough. The Owls had committed only two turnovers the entire game, and were in front of No. 6 Kansas in the closing minutes.
Their third turnover helped cost them the game.
Ben McLemore stepped in front of a pass from the Owls' Anthony Lee and went the other way for a dunk that gave Kansas the lead with 2:42 remaining, and the reigning Big 12 champions held on for a 69-62 victory Sunday.
"That was unfortunate, that play," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said of the turnover near mid-court. "I'll be anxious to see it on film and see what we did."
Temple (10-3) was poised for its second top-10 upset of the season before withering in crunch time.
"Stage like this, this is what you play for," said Khalif Wyatt, who led the Owls with 26 points. "We didn't take advantage of it, but it was just a great atmosphere."
For 27 minutes, Temple had stared down the best and loudest crowd in college basketball. They were playing a team that had four senior starters and a freshman who is a likely NBA lottery pick, a program that had won 98 of its last 99 games in their jewel of a gym, Allen Fieldhouse.
Yet, the Owls had not blinked, even after trailing by double digits in each half. Their star, Khalif Wyatt, had scored 11 points in 2 minutes to give them belief. They had scored 22 points on 11 second-half possessions to get a lead. They had not committed a single turnover for those 27 minutes.
With 3 minutes to go, they had a chance to beat Kansas at Allen. They had the ball and led by point. Then, a pass was left in the air just long enough for that wondrous freshman Ben McLemore to grab it for his team's only steal of the game, bolt to the other end for a throwdown and a lead that KU was not going to give up at home.
Kansas finished every possession but one after that. Temple had no more to give.
…When Temple coach Fran Dunphy was asked if he remembered one of his teams playing any better and not winning, he said he could not remember a specific game, but attributed the result to the opponent and, at least a bit, to the crowd.
"This is my third time here and I don't remember it being this loud," Dunphy said. "The other two were deafening. This was beyond that early in the game. But I think our kids were not troubled by that. They were not as in awe as I would have been had I been a player in the game. I was very proud of that."
…Wyatt loved the whole scene and played like it.
"This is probably the loudest," he said. "They get a layup and they go crazy . . . It was like a packed Palestra."
When it was finally clear KU was going to win again, those great fans started to chant and sway. It was the moment for "Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU." But it took quite a long time and, at Allen Fieldhouse, that is about as close to victory as any opponent gets.
“I’m not surprised he could pick it off,” KU senior point guard Elijah Johnson said of McLemore’s key theft, KU’s only steal on a day the Jayhawks forced just four turnovers, fewest turnovers by a KU foe since March 16, 2008, when KU forced just four against Texas.
“I give him that much respect he was the only one to get a steal. He was pressuring. He wasn’t giving up. He wasn’t scared to get out and pressure the ball. I felt he deserved it,” added Johnson, who came up with a pair of driving layups to erase KU’s game-high deficit of four (54-50) with 5:31 to play.
“That brought energy,” Releford said of McLemore’s steal. “The crowd got into it. That one steal is the only one we had, I guess, the whole game.
“That was the key to it (victory),” added Releford, who finished with 14 points off 5-of-5 shooting in just 23 minutes.
Noted KU’s Young: “I think it took all the momentum from them and gave it to us. It got the crowd pumped up and everything and helped us a lot.”
KU coach Bill Self was philosophical about the steal. “To win close games, players have to make plays, and he made a big one,” Self said.
“It was huge,” Self added. “We get one steal for the game (KU last had one steal on March 15, 2005, versus Oklahoma State). Ben runs through a pass and gets a dunk, which was pretty special. Ben was never plugged in offensively the whole game, it seemed like. That wasn’t his fault. It was our fault. We did a poor job of plugging him in.”
…It may be remembered as the day McLemore arrived as a defensive player. He helped shut down the 6-foot-4 Wyatt late after Wyatt got Releford in foul trouble.
“Playing here, it’s been great. It’s a blessing to be here and out here playing for the University of Kansas. I’m just out here having fun,” McLemore said.
As far as remaining grounded ... “I think it’s my family telling me to be focused on nine in a row,” he said of KU going for its ninth straight Big 12 regular-season title.
“I was on Travis hard at halftime,” Self said. “I thought Travis played a bad, bad first half. He didn’t guard anybody. He wasn’t aggressive. He made a couple baskets, but they were cheap.
“One thing about Travis ... gosh, was he huge down the stretch. I don’t know about his fifth foul. I thought that was a phantom trip (with :14.3 left), but those two threes he made were huge. We don’t win the game unless he came back (from fourth foul with 15:32 left; he returned with 6:53 left) and was aggressive.”
Releford, who finished with 14 points off 5-of-5 shooting, hit a three to give KU its biggest lead of the second half, 38-27, at 18:21. His three with :35 to play boosted a 62-58 lead to seven points.
“Elijah passed it to me. I was wide-open and took the shot,” Releford said of the late trey off a feed from Elijah Johnson.
Releford said it’s great the Jayhawks were able to win despite his playing just 23 foul-plagued minutes.
“They played well without me in there,” Releford said. “There will be times I have to be out or Elijah has to be out. We’ve seen it with Ben (McLemore) having to be out (with foul trouble). There will be times like that. We practice it. It’s not new to us.”
… Johnson hit McLemore with a crowd-pleasing alley-oop for a slam in the second half. “My only concern was, was it going to get over the defender’s fingertips, and it did. I don’t doubt Ben. He’s Superman,” Johnson said.
It wasn’t difficult to determine the difference in the game. Kansas had a nimble 7-footer blocking shots from start to finish and Temple didn’t.
Even when Kansas plays with a lack of wire-to-wire fire, as was the case Sunday, it doesn’t get burned with a loss because there is no answer for a great shot-blocker who never gets into foul trouble and has the maturity not to let a subpar offensive day taint his overall game.
On a day Withey made just 3 of 10 field goals and scored just eight points, he more than compensated with nine blocked shots and 11 rebounds.
“What it doesn’t tell you is how many alters he had,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “He changed so many of our shots because of his presence. He’s a really terrific player.”
Asked about plays that had nothing to do with Withey, Dunphy always seemed to circle back to the impact the senior from San Diego had on the game.
Asked about Ben McLemore’s pivotal steal late in the game, Dunphy quickly changed the subject, saying, “Overall, we were at the rim a couple of times late and Withey would just not let us finish.”
When talking about his leading scorer, Khalif Wyatt, a senior guard who brings so much savvy to the game, Dunphy praised his passing skills as much as the impact of his 26 points. In so doing, again Dunphy couldn’t help but return to his recurring postgame theme.
“He made a couple of great passes as well,” Dunphy said of Wyatt while looking at the box score. “I only see one assist for him. I don’t know how.”
"I think we handled the atmosphere great," said Wyatt, whom KU coach Bill Self complimentarily said had "kind of an old man's game." "I was proud of all the guys. Nobody showed any fear, nobody let the stage get the best of them. A stage like this is what you play for. You get a chance to shut all those people up in the crowd, but we didn't take advantage of it. But it was a fun atmosphere, and that's just a great college basketball game."
Asked where KU's home court ranked in all of the places he has played throughout his Temple career, Wyatt did not hesitate to give Sunday's venue the nod when it came to noise.
"This was probably the loudest," he said. "They score even a layup and they go crazy. It doesn't matter what they do, the crowd goes crazy."
Kevin Young does plenty of things well for the Jayhawks.
He’s just not exactly the team’s go-to free throw shooter.
Without a fresh copy of the stat sheet, though, Young’s nonchalance following a 6-for-6 effort from the stripe — all of which came down the stretch during KU’s 69-62 victory over Temple on Sunday — almost could’ve fooled.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Young deadpanned after the game. “It’s just another free throw, and I was just trying to focus on making it.”
“Just another free throw,” he added with a grin.
Bill Self wasn’t buying Young’s casual response.
“Well that’s probably how he’s trying to act,” Self quipped. “I don’t know if that’s exactly who he is.
“But he was poised down the stretch, without question.”
Young came into the game shooting only 56.3 percent (18-for-32) from the stripe, but it didn’t show. He calmly knocked down six when the Jayhawks had virtually no margin for error.
Look out, Big 12.
That warning has grown so repetitive it should be broadcast on the league website every Monday at noon during hoops season.
Now, three days before the Jayhawks open league play at home against Iowa State, we learn they are good enough to play skittish against a good team and still win.
Reminded that they cannot advance straight to the NCAA Tournament, but instead must complete the formality of a league round-robin, a few polite remarks were offered.
Self spoke of how he watched most of Kansas State’s win against Oklahoma State and how it impressed him. He also wished the Jayhawks had played Saturday to give them another day to rest and regroup before Iowa State visits.
The players? They were polite too when addressing the league, but injected an expected sense of confidence.
“I think it will be fun this year,’’ Young said.
To which Johnson turned to his teammate and said, “It’s fun every year, Kevin.’’
To Bill Self, Kansas senior center Jeff Withey is the mink stole he wears into a crowded room.
The 7-foot Withey is a luxury, something nobody else has. Trust me, though, Self will never take a shot blocker like Withey for granted. He’ll relish the games he has left to coach his human rejection machine and when Withey plays his final game, Self will cry like a baby as his wife, Cindy, consoles him.
Withey blocked nine shots against Temple on Sunday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
Give the Owls credit, they kept charging at Withey inside. And he kept sending shots away like they were flies at a summer picnic.
Kansas had to fight in this one, coming from behind in the final six minutes to win 69-60. But fighting is so much easier when you have a Jeff the Gentle Giant protecting the basket.
“He bailed us out of everything,’’ Self said. “Even when he’s not blocking shots, he alters.’’
Kansas is one of the nation’s best in field-goal percentage defense, but Self isn’t kidding himself.
“We’re so overrated,’’ he said. “Our field-goal percentage defense is off the charts, but we make so many mistakes. But Jeff makes up for our mistakes. It’s pretty remarkable.’’
There were others who played roles in KU’s 12th win in its final game before Big 12 play starts Wednesday against Iowa State.
Wichita Eagle Lutz
When defense is your calling card -- as was Releford's last year -- you tend to get somewhat overshadowed. And although teammates Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey get most of the headlines, Releford has been just as key to the sixth-ranked Jayhawks' 11-1 start.
Not only is he still defending, the senior guard has boosted his scoring to 13.3 PPG this season -- third-best on the team and about five points better than last season -- and he's shooting 61.7 percent. He always had the ability to score, but now he's doing it consistently -- notching double-digit outings in his past nine games after beginning the season in a shooting slump.
A superbly conditioned athlete, who, in his own words, could “run all day,” Kevin Young doesn’t need much downtime in a two-hour Kansas University basketball workout.
“I try to get in every possession at practice. One day coach (assistant Norm) Roberts said, ‘Take a break. These guys have got to learn the plays, too,’” senior power forward Young said of younger frontcourt players Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor as well as red-shirt Landen Lucas.
“When he told me that, it dawned on me they are going to be in the game just as much as me. If they mess up, we lose possessions. It’s my role on the team to help them get better and make sure they know the plays and know what to do when they are out there,” Young added.
…“One of the biggest things I took in when I got here was coach’s philosophy on recruiting. He said it’s our duty to get somebody better (to come) here, and I am already leaving, so it’s not like I’m having much effect on bringing some new kids, so why not help the kids that are here?”
Young — he is majoring in African American studies with a minor in history — said he’s not yet decided if he’ll continue playing next year, become a coach or enter another field.
“My mom ... when she sees me coming home with scratches, says, ‘Maybe basketball is not cut out for you. Maybe you should start coaching already,’” Young said with a smile.
Audio: Tim Brando Show w/Coach Self prior to Temple game
Video: Jay Bilas names top college defenders, top five Wooden Award contenders
Kansas’ Andrea Hudy, the Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Performance, has been named the National College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Hudy is receiving her award this weekend at the annual NSCA Coaches Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
The NSCA College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year Award is given to an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®), for their dedication to improving athletic performance with safe and effective science-based programs. In addition to having earned the CSCS certification, a nominee must be an active NSCA member for at least the previous two consecutive years and be employed as a Division I, II, III, or NAIA Head/Director of Strength and Conditioning.
“I am honored and humbled to be receiving this award,” said Hudy. “There are lots of talented people out there around the country, who were also very deserving. The only reason we can do what we do at Kansas is because of the support we receive from the great alumni, administration and coaches that we have.”
“It is a privilege to honor Andrea Hudy and recognize her achievement,” NSCA Founder Boyd Epley said. “Andrea’s well-earned award and her contributions shape the NSCA into what it is today.”
Hudy, who is in her ninth year at the University of Kansas, oversees the Anderson Strength and Conditioning Complex for all KU sports and primarily works with the Jayhawks’ men’s basketball team. In her nine seasons with the Jayhawks, she has helped 14 student-athletes get drafted by NBA teams. Including her time at the University of Connecticut (1995-2004), Hudy has worked with 33 athletes that have gone on to play in the NBA.
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