LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Here’s a rare sight: Kansas, of all schools, playing the no respect card.
Unranked all season with a team made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores, the Jayhawks won their fifth straight Sunday, using a stirring comeback from a 16-point second-half deficit to beat No. 19 Oklahoma 59-58.
Mario Chalmers, who hit the go-ahead basket with 20 seconds left as Kansas won for the 12th time in 14 games, is hoping the national media take note.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Chalmers, one of three freshmen who start for the Jayhawks (15-6, 6-2 Big 12).
“People on ESPN have been talking—`Kansas can’t win the close games.’ Hopefully, they will get off our backs a little bit. I think that we earned a lot of respect by beating one of the toughest teams in the league.”
Freshman Brandon Rush, who had vision problems much of the first half after getting poked in the eye, wound up with 18 points and triggered the Jayhawks’ biggest comeback of the year with two quick 3-pointers after Oklahoma went ahead 50-34.
The Sooners (14-5, 5-3), who had won five in a row and beaten Kansas in three of their four previous meetings, seemed to seize command with a 16-4 run early in the second half. The Sooners were dominating the boards and Rush, Kansas’ leading scorer, was having a poor shooting day.
But then Rush came to life and the sellout crowd of 16,300 put up a deafening roar as Kansas ran off a 17-3 spree in the matchup of last year’s co-Big 12 champions.
“We couldn’t have played any better for 34 minutes,” Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We had the crowd out of the game. It’s disappointing. This one is hard to handle because I thought we outplayed them for a long time and they outplayed us the last 6 minutes.”
Freshman Julian Wright dunked on a fast break in the run, following baskets by Chalmers and Rush.
Also prominent was C.J. Giles, who had three blocks in the second half and forced the Sooners to continually alter their shots.
“It gives me a lot more confidence about working hard and focusing more on the defensive aspects than the offensive,” he said.
Wright hit a follow shot that finally tied it at 55 with 2:06 to go. The 6-foot-8 Wright dunked home a miss by Rush for a 57-55 lead with 53 seconds left.
Michael Neal’s 3-pointer put Oklahoma on top 58-57, then Chalmers canned a floater for the game-winner.
The Sooners inbounded the ball with 19 seconds left. Rush blocked Terrell Everett’s shot, then Everett put it up again and missed. There was a held ball with 1.6 seconds to go and Oklahoma had the possession arrow.
Then, in a boneheaded move one might expect of a freshman, Rush threw the ball into the air instead of handing it to the official.
“I thought I was going to get a technical,” he said sheepishly.
But he didn’t. Oklahoma inbounded the ball, but Neal’s 3-pointer was short.
“I got it off as quick as I could,” Neal said. “There was contact I thought, but I wasn’t expecting to get a call. That’s just the way it goes.”
The Jayhawks appeared rusty from a six-day layoff and missed 11 of their first 14 shots.
Then they began finding holes in the suffocating Oklahoma defense and unleashed a 10-0 run, highlighted by Jeff Hawkins’ crosscourt pass to Rush for a fast break layup and a three-point play by Chalmers.
The Sooners took a 29-26 halftime lead after Taj Gray stole the ball near midcourt and made a spectacular dunk a few seconds ahead of the buzzer.
The Sooners shot only 34.8 percent against Kansas’ NCAA-leading defense, but the nation’s rebound leaders held a 44-34 advantage on the boards.
Wright had 14 points for Kansas and Chalmers added 10.
Everett had 14 points and Gray added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Oklahoma. Neal had 11 points.