Kansas Reaches Elite 8
KU LEAVES UPSTART SALUKIS FEELING ILL.
March 23, 2007 -- SAN JOSE, Calif. - For much of last night's West Regional game between Kansas and Southern Illinois, it was difficult to tell which program was the storied national power and which was the mid-major upstart.
But in the end, the No. 1 seed Kansas withstood the fourth-seeded Salukis relentless defense and no-quit spirit to take a 61-58 victory and advance to Saturday's region final against UCLA.
Don't be fooled, the tape of the game is not going to go into any Kansas basketball museums next to James Naismith's peach basket. The Jayhawks (33-4) could not get into an offensive rhythm from outside and wound up winning a grind-it-out game inside against the smaller Salukis (29-7) before 18,049 fans at HP Pavilion.
"Whoever plays Southern Illinois is not going to look good offensively," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The game was not decided until the final minute when Kansas' Brandon Rush's running jumper put the Jayhawks up 61-58 with 25 seconds left. The Salukis turned to their go-to player, Jamaal Tatum, on the other end but his 3-point attempt missed. Randal Falker pulled down the rebound for Southern Illinois but lost the ball, and with it went the Salukis' upset hopes.
Julian Wright missed two free throws with two seconds left, giving Southern one last desperation shot, but Tony Young's three-quarter-court shot hit the backboard.
The two teams went back-and-forth all night. Whenever it looked like Kansas was about to take control and send the Salukis sulking back to Carbondale, Southern Illinois found an answer. Darrell Arthur delivered a thunderous alley-oop dunk to tie the score at 45 with a little more than seven minutes left. Russell Robinson followed with a driving score, and it looked like the Salukis were done. But Southern Illinois refused to go away. Tatum hit back-to-back shots to put the Missouri Valley's best back in the lead.
Kansas shot 60 percent in the game, but only made one 3-pointer. They won by outscoring Southern Illinois 42-18 in the paint.
The Salukis' in-your-face defense forced Kansas to abandon their full-court style and try to make plays in the half court. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 19 times and hurt themselves at the foul line, making 10 of 19 attempts. The Salukis also managed 17 offensive rebounds.
"We do what we do to everybody no matter who it is, no matter what's on the front of their jersey," Salukis coach Chris Lowery said.
Southern Illinois opened up a six-point lead early in the second half, going on a 9-0 run out of the locker room. Their second-leading scorer, Tatum, got untracked, hitting two jumpers to start the run. Tatum had been one of the Salukis' poor shooters in the first half, going 1-for-8.
Kansas answered with a 9-2 run of its own to take a 36-35 lead. The two teams then traded baskets and momentum. The Salukis were buoyed by every loose ball they picked up and every steal they made. The Jayhawks were determined to withstand upstart Southern Illinois' best shot.
The Salukis trailed by only three points at the half, 27-24, despite shooting 28 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. Their signature defense kept them in the game, forcing 10 first-half Kansas turnovers. They converted those turnovers into 13 points.