Both coaches were referring to a back-breaking, straight-on triple by Darren Collison with just under five minutes left that pushed the lead from five to eight (58-50).
“We had momentum and that shot kept us an arms length away,” said a disappointed Self.
Just when it looked like KU had clawed its way back, Collison’s shot seemed to squelch any notion of a comeback win.
But the Bruins made several shots of the back-breaking variety in this one while Kansas missed plenty of good looks from close range.
Kansas controlled most of the first half but fell victim to a Josh Shipp three-pointer from the corner while time expired giving UCLA a 35-31 lead at the break. The crucial basket by UCLA’s sophomore forward seemed to deflate the Jayhawks as they headed to the locker room.
Late clock conversions were throughout this one according to Self.
“Their ability to make hard shots at the end of the clock was as big as anything.”
“For them the basket was as big as the ocean tonight. We played great D on shots they took, but they hit tough shots all night,” said sophomore Mario Chalmers who only managed two points, and had seven turnovers.
While UCLA continued to convert shots, Kansas struggled from the field. At one point the number of missed layups and dunks numbered 19. 24 turnovers ended with too many easy opportunities for UCLA. Poor free-throw shooting has plagued this Jayhawk team all season and it did again tonight as KU went 5-11 from the line.
It all equaled too much of a mountain for KU to climb.
UCLA also shot over 50 percent breaking the Jayhawks streak of holding opponents under 50 percent shooting. The last time a KU opponent shot over 50 percent? Texas, back in February of 2006, that game also resulted in an “L” for Kansas.
Kansas also didn’t have an answer for Arron Afflalo who broke out of his “slump” in a big way with 24 points. UCLA’s first-team All-American made several critical hoops and he did it against KU’s best defender – Brandon Rush. Rush seemed to bother Arron with his length early on blocking a couple of early attempts but by the time the night was over it was Afflalo who got the best of Rush.
Rush stepped up in the month of March and really was KU’s best player. If it is his last game in a Kansas uniform, Rush can leave the program with his head held high – the talented sophomore finished with 18 points on 7-16 shooting. But now that the final buzzer on this season has gone off, the speculation about Rush’s future begins.
“We haven’t talked about it (declaring for the NBA Draft) since before the season,” continued Self. “I know one thing…He’s not in a hurry because he’s enjoying school.”
Self also went on to say he would sit down with Rush in the next week and evaluate his draft status and talk to KU’s leading scorer about his future.