It wasn't the best night of basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks (7-0; 0-0), narrowly escaping with a win over UCLA (3-3; 0-0) after a foul was called with 0.7 seconds on the clock with the game tied at 76. Mario Little calmly stepped up to the line and knocked down the first from the stripe to seal the game for the No. 4 team in the country. UCLA coach Ben Howland wasn't pleased with the call, while Bill Self wasn't pleased with the effort from his team.
Allen Fieldhouse was rocking for Thursday's marquee non-conference matchup between Kansas and UCLA, and while the game didn't disappoint from a competitive standpoint, KU hardly walked away feeling good about its performance. Speaking afterwards, Self expressed his displeasure with the performance, at times having trouble defining how badly his team plays at times.
"They outplayed us," said Self. "That's evident, and we were fortunate and I haven't seen the play yet, but Mario [Little] said he did get fouled at the end and that was very fortunate. That was probably the only smart thing we did tonight, to get the ball in quick and take it down the court. That's what we talk about all the time. We were very, very fortunate. I think they controlled the game and certainly outplayed us."
"We made so many mental mistakes, it gave them every opportunity to win the game," Self added. "If I was playing against us, I would attack our bigs every time. I'll put it out there because everybody can see it. It doesn't take a guy that studies a ton of tape to know just throw it to your big guys because our big guys don't guard very well. We've got to get a lot better at that, but if I was scouting our team right now, I would say throw it at Marcus', Markieff's and Thomas' man every possession."
The play at the end of the game, one that will be considered controversial depending on what side you're on, was one that likely would be called one or two out of 10 times. With the clock winding down and a scramble taking place, refs would typically let the play happen. However, the ref who blew the whistle saw something that warranted foul shots, and Little gladly obliged, winning the game for his team with the first shot and purposely missing the second to run the clock off.
"I just saw Marcus [Morris] pushing it and I was just going to try and get a clean-up bucket or just do something to try and get it back. I think he lost it or something, and I saw it, so I just tried to grab it and throw it up, and I think [the UCLA defender] bumped into me a little and just drew the call," said Little.
"I think he just bumped me, I really don't know. When I first knew I was fouled and they called it, I make free throws, it's what I do, so I just stepped up to the line and knocked it down. It was a relief, but it's still free throws."
With time winding down and the Jayhawks clinging to a three-point lead, UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt came off a high screen, where his man ducked under, and nailed a three, giving him 33 points on the night and 5-of-6 from the outside.
"He had a great night," Self said when talking about UCLA's star. "I thought Honeycutt by far was the best player in the game; he had a great night. I actually thought Brady [Morningstar] did a nice job on him. I didn't think anybody guarded him worth a flip, but I thought Brady did a nice job on him. He probably got 12 of his 33 on Brady, and the rest of it on subs."
The game was tied with the clock ticking off. KU inbounded the ball to Tyrel Reed, who was quickly trapped on the baseline. The pressure forced him to fall backwards, but instead of calling a timeout or throwing the ball into KU's backcourt, he tossed a line-drive through the UCLA defense that found its way to Marcus Morris.
Morris dribbled down but lost control of the ball. Little picked it up and threw it towards the hoop, leading to the foul call and the eventual game-ending free throw.
Once again, Marcus and Markieff Morris were forced to play through foul trouble, this time against UCLA and freshman center Joshua Smith.
The 6-foot-10, 305-pound big man scored 17 points and pulled down 12 rebounds against Kansas, who simply couldn't get position against him.
"This is Josh's first of many double doubles in his career. It was good to see him play so well tonight," said Howland after the narrow loss to Kansas.
The Morris twins were lacking on the offensive end for most of the game as well before Marcus helped his team in the second half with 13 of his 16 total points. The end-of-the-game call against UCLA was the topic of conversation following the game, however, and coach Howland wasn't shy in voicing his displeasure.
"I was watching a replay of the foul at the end of the game on our computer inside [the locker room], and a really, really poor way to end the game on a call," Howland said. "It's a loose ball, both 23, Little, and Malcolm Lee are putting their hand on the ball at the same time with .9 seconds, so normally you wouldn't make that kind of call at that point of the game unless it was very obvious. And from what I saw, it's very disappointing to have the game end on that note.
"That being said, they're a great team. I was really excited about our character and our toughness tonight, and we kept coming back. There's obviously so many plays that could have made the difference for us. Obviously we're disappointed. We had a chance to win, especially when we made a shot there to tie it up. It's just disappointing to see a game against two good teams finish on that kind of note. It would have been a great win, but it didn't happen. That's what happens. We have to bounce back now."
In the second half, with Kansas and UCLA trading baskets and leads, junior guard Tyshawn Taylor took over the game in stretches, scoring three straight buckets towards the end. On a night when the Jayhawks weren't exactly perfect on the offensive end, Taylor knew it was his time to step up and make something happen.
"I was just trying to be aggressive, and I saw how my man was playing me and I saw a lane to the bucket, so I was just attacking and I ended up making my shots," said Taylor, who scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
"I just saw how they were playing the ball screens, and I came off the ball and the lane was pretty much open. I knew I was going to get to the bucket or dish to one of my teammates on the wing, so I just tried to be aggressive."
With Markieff Morris out due to fouls and Marcus battling four fouls of his own, Taylor became the go-to guy, mostly creating his own shot, but also moving without the ball to get open and initiating the offense from the point guard position.
Last year, during a tight game, Sherron Collins would have been the guy to take the ball and win the game for his team. With his departure, Kansas is in search for a player who can take his team and put the game on his shoulders.
Most expect freshman Josh Selby to be that player, but for now, Taylor is doing an excellent job of becoming a leader.
"This is definitely one of those games," said Taylor. "I think we had multiple guys do that. I think different guys stepped up at different times, like Mario made that big free throw, and Marcus hit a big three in the second half and Tyrel [Reed] -- without him in the first half (15 points), the game probably would have been a little bit worse. We didn't play our best game at all by any means, but we got the win."
The Jayhawks have little time before they are faced with another challenge. Next up is Memphis, who Kansas will take on for the third year in a row. The two teams will meet in New York City for a neutral court game at Madison Square Garden.
Last season, Kansas eked out a win over the Tigers in St. Louis. Tip is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, and the game will be aired on ESPN.