KU still managed to grind out a 76-72 overtime Allen Field House win before a national TV audience as part of the inaugural Big XII-Pac 10 Challenge.
Darrell Arthur led Kansas in scoring with 20 points. Brandon Rush surprised everyone not by scoring 17 points but by playing 36 minutes. Mario Chalmers overcame a sluggish night to contribute 14, and Rodrick Stewart came up very big, scoring 13 – many of them when no one else on the floor wearing white seemed to want the ball.
The 36 minutes by Rush were more than he had played in the season's previous games combined as he continues to recover from summer knee surgery. Rush also led the Jayhawks in rebounding with eight.
"We were going to play Brandon 20 minutes. Medical staff said he was feeling good, he looked good, he wasn't fatigued, so play him more," KU coach Bill Self explained.
The Jayhawks started off slow. Sparked by Rush, who came off the bench with four minutes gone, KU went on a 13-0 run and eventually opened up a 20-9 lead over the next seven minutes.
Arizona fought back behind the shooting of Napoleon Dynamite stunt double Chase Budinger to make it a one point ballgame, 28-27, at the 4:49 mark. Both teams played traded punches for the remainder of the half to take a 40-40 tie into halftime.
Head coach Bill Self said his team played "stubborn" and made numerous "silly" mistakes throughout most of the game, but the first half was particularly bad.
"We had a chance to crack the game open," he said, "then we had about six terrible offensive and defensive possessions. We played stubborn, which is very frustrating."
"What I mean by that is, we know what we should do, but there's that inside of us saying, ‘Well, yeah, but I can do this.' And it just doesn't work. It certainly didn't work tonight."
The tape of the second half should be hidden from middle and high school players across the country. Arizona shot 36.8 percent and Kansas just 34.8 percent.
A three-pointer by Budinger – three of his game-high 27 – put the Wildcats ahead, 54-50, with 7:20 to play in the game. From that point on, KU ratcheted up the defensive intensity just enough to slow Budinger down a little. They also exercised a little more patience on offense.
Kansas knotted the game at 58 with just over three minutes remaining. Following two Nic Wise free throws with 2:15 left, Chalmers drove the lane and, with the assist of a Darrell Arthur screen, made a lay-up to tie the game at 60 with 1:49 remaining.
Budinger responded with a two-point jump shot and Arizona regained the lead. Two Chalmers free throws with 27 seconds left tied the game at 62 and set the stage for what was nearly one of the great finishes in Allen Field House history.
After calling timeout, Arizona ran the clock inside 10 seconds. Unable to free up Budinger, ‘Zona forward Bret Brielmaier took a 15-footer from the left wing for the win with five seconds left. He missed and Brandon Rush grabbed the rebound, took a couple of dribbles toward the KU hoop and uncorked a 50-footer as the horn sounded. The shot rebounded hard off the glass into the front iron, popped up and came back down to settled on the rim for what seemed like an eternity. It finally rolled off the front edge.
"I thought it was going to go in," Rush deadpanned about his desperation chuck, then responded, "No, I wished that it would drop in there, but we were lucky to get the win."
"I've made some shots like that in practice, but never anything like that in a game," he added later.
The overtime was highlighted by KU's best play of the night. The ‘Hawks made five of six shots and grabbed four rebounds in the extra period to just two for Arizona, despite being outboarded by the ‘Cats, 36-25, in regulation.
The Jayhawks only overtime miss – a short jumper by Mario Chalmers – lead to a stickback by Darrell Arthur.
Rod Stewart started the OT off with a traditional three-point play. Arthur made a short jumper and then stuck his follow shot off the Chalmers miss. Rush then had back-to-back dunks, one of them the alley-oop variety from Chalmers and the other on a breakaway after a bad Arizona pass was deflected. He also kicked in a free throw. Russell Robinson concluded the scoring with his only two points of the night: a pair of free throws with just 12 seconds remaining.
Rush said, "This was a good win for us. It was an overtime win, a grind-it-out game, and we needed one of those. We're going to have more of those games this season, so this was good for us."
Freshman sensation – and if he isn't already, he should be – Jerryd Bayless pumped in 19 points for Arizona. Brielmaier grabbed eight rebounds and Budinger picked six to lead the Wildcats.
KU returns to the friendly confines Wednesday night when they take on the Florida International University Golden Panthers, coached by former KU guard Rex Walters.
Walters was a two-year starter on Mt. Oread after transferring from Northwestern. He was a tremendous all-around athlete who averaged 15.6 points and 3.0 boards as a Jayhawk. He only played two seasons for the Jayhawks but still finished his career with 1,064 points (37th all-time at Kansas); 278 assists; 93 steals; 41.8 percent (151 of 361) from behind the arc (good enough for sixth all-time at KU); and a career free throw shooting percentage of 84.9 percent – tops in the KU record book.