If you were Ben Howland on Thursday night, the first half couldn't have gone better. Your team comes out and weathers the crowd before playing a solid half of offensive basketball. Your bigs are dominating Kansas and even your guards are effectively getting dribble penetration while knocking down open looks and even the not so open looks.
For a young team, on the road, still searching for success, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. That and the Morris twins spending a good amount of the first half on the bench again.
The Jayhawks were hunting for 64 straight at home in what is one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball. The formula for a team coming in and getting that upset at Allen Fieldhouse? Keep it close, gain confidence and put the pressure on Kansas. That's exactly what UCLA did early and it led to a dogfight.
Just as Derek Williams did for Arizona, Tyler Honeycutt looked like a world beater against a Kansas defense that didn't have much of an answer. On the interior, the Oliver Miller clone known as Josh Smith owned the Kansas bigs and things weren't looking good.
Fortunately for Kansas, others stepped up, the Jayhawks were able to put together a few timely runs thanks to some strong flashes on defense and in the end Kansas received a little help. Bill Self and the Jayhawks no doubt need to thank the basketball gods for the way this one ended and they should feel extremely fortunate to be sitting at 64 straight in the Phog. Final score in this one 77-76, Kansas escapes on a last second Mario Little free throw.
Big winners on the night for Kansas; Tyrel Reed for finding his shot , Brady Morningstar for reminding us why he plays, role players stepping up(Tyshawn Taylor) and the team as a whole for surviving another stiff test. Losers; Interior defense, rebounding, Morris foul trouble, free throw shooting and failing to match the intensity of your opponent from the outset.
UCLA is a proud program and they showed up to play in Lawrence tonight. Arizona did the same in Vegas. Now it's time for Kansas to learn something from both contests and understand that the best shot is coming every night, especially when conference play starts. Kansas State may have been picked to win the league, but every team is going to play against Kansas as if they are the favorite and that's never easy.