Heading into Thursday night's game, the Kansas Jayhawks had won 63 straight games within the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse – a program record and the longest active home winning streak in college basketball.
In the waning moments of Thursday's contest with the visiting Bruins of UCLA victory number 64 was in some serious doubt, until Mario Little's free throw with .7 seconds on the clock gave the Jayhawks a 77-76 lead and the win.
The free throw came as the result of a controversial foul by UCLA guard Malcolm Lee. The Bruins' sophomore star Tyler Honeycutt – who exploded for 33 points on the night to lead all scorers – canned a deep three pointer with just five seconds left to tie the game at 76 all.
With overtime seemingly imminent, a mad rush down the court by Kansas led to a brief scramble for the ball. Little gained possession and hoisted a shot, during which the officials determined he was fouled by Lee.
Little sank the first, missed the second, and Honeycutt's desperation full-court heave sailed wide, sealing the victory for Kansas.
To say that Bruins head coach Ben Howland was displeased with the call would be something of an understatement.
"It was really a poor way to end the game on that call," he said, in the post-game press conference. "It was a loose ball. Both Little and Malcom Lee are putting their hand on the ball at the same time with .9 seconds. Normally, you wouldn't make that kind of a call at that point in the game unless it was very obvious."
For his part, Kansas head coach Bill Self said he knew the Jayhawks were fortunate to walk away with the win.
"Oh yeah, (UCLA) out-played us, and that's evident," he said. "We were very fortunate – Mario (Little) said he got fouled at the end – but we were just very fortunate."
The contest between the two storied programs was a slugfest from the start, despite the Jayhawks' perception nationally as the vastly superior team. With Bruins' leading scorer Reeves Nelson largely contained, Honeycutt and mammoth freshman Josh Smith stepped up to the plate and did some major damage.
At 6-foot-10 and 320 pounds, Smith's sheer size provided some tough match-up issues for the smaller Kansas front line – and the talented freshman took advantage early and often en route to 17 points and 13 rebounds in just 28 minutes of play.
Self said he knew Smith would be a load to handle.
"He dominated our bigs physically," he explained. "We knew if we didn't guard him very well, he would become effective. I thought Josh played very well. If I was coaching against us, I would attack our post players every possession."
Meanwhile, with Marcus and Markieff Morris struggling to find their scoring stroke in the first half – the two had just eight total points at intermission – the Jayhawks turned to an unlikely source to help them keep pace.
Senior shooting guard Tyrel Reed broke a mini-shooting slump and caught fire, hitting 3-of-4 three-point attempts and tallying 15 points in the first 20 minutes of play.
"Our guys were not hitting shots and fortunately I was," Reed said. "I was trying to do different things during the game, but I did not do well defensively."
The tide of the game continued to swing back and forth in the second half, with each team claiming the momentum at different intervals.
With Honeycutt and Smith still wreaking havoc, the Bruins claimed a four-point lead with 8:15 left in the game, 64-60, on the strength of a 7-2 run. Taylor proceeded to score six straight points in the next 1:45 of play, to once again give Kansas the lead.
"Tyshawn made the two biggest offensive plays for us when we were down four in the second half," Self said. "I thought Tyshawn played really well."
The Jayhawks never surrendered the lead in the final six minutes of play, and Little's clutch free throw pushed them to 7-0 on the season.
Next, Kansas will travel to New York City for a Tuesday night tilt at Madison Square Garden with the #14-ranked Memphis Tigers.
"I think that neither team played their best game (Thursday night)," Taylor said. "But it was one of those games that we were going at it. Neither team played their best defensively, but that happens sometimes in games like this."