The home court advantage for the Jayhawks was palpable in Lawrence on Friday night. PIC: Nick Wagner, KC Star
“It was nuts out there today.”
Hunter Dickinson’s assessment of Friday night is something we all felt. And, to be quite frank, the environment deserved it - the mighty Kansas Jayhawks had only stumbled once against the top-three Marquette, and UConn had turned every opponent it played into pulp. Something had to give.
It set up a playoff-like environment in Lawrence, Kansas on Friday night. With over 16,000 strong at a deafeningly-loud volume, UConn was quickly reminded why Bill Self has only lost 17 games at Allen Fieldhouse (donned ‘Phog Allen’ after the legendary Kansas head coach) in the 21 years he’s spent as the Jayhawks’ frontman. And the fans didn’t disappoint again.
In the end, the home court advantage may have been the ultimate deciding factor in Friday’s thriller. Kansas edged UConn, 69-65, in a game that truly came down to the last two possessions.
UConn, riding a streak of 24 consecutive wins over non-conference opponents (and by double-digits, at that), struggled to develop any continuity through a major portion of the first half, to the point that Dan Hurley called two timeouts before the clock struck 14 minutes. UConn trailed by double-digits multiple times throughout the first 20 minutes: 16-5, 23-12, 28-18, and 36-24, to name a few.
But lucky enough for the Huskies, the Kansas offense couldn’t find much of a rhythm, either; despite a 16-5 run in the first 6 minutes of the game, Kansas only managed to add 22 points over the next 14 minutes. In a way, it was a credit to UConn’s pursuit of solid defense; even though Kansas managed an even 50% from the field (23-46) - and a whopping 9-of-14 (64%) from beyond the arc, they only converted 43% of the two-point attempts they took, in large part to the efforts of KJ Adams (18 pts, 6-of-10 from the field).
But of course, living-and-dying by the three proved successful for Kansas. Hunter Dickinson made half of his field goals from beyond-the-arc (3-4 3PT) and finished with 15 points. Kevin McCullar Jr. had a similar fate, going 75% from downtown and contributing 21 points of his own.
Tristen Newton, who emerged as a reliable offensive threat from the point guard position last year, carried the Huskies’ offense. His 31 points led all scorers from either team by a large margin, including a monstrous 6-for-9 from beyond-the-arc. Alex Karaban was the only other Huskies player to crack double-digits on Friday, grabbing 6 from downtown and 4 from inside.
The play that had many perplexed came in the final seconds of the contest. Down 67-65 with under 20 seconds remaining, Kansas’ Dajuan Harris Jr. missed both free throws he took. With no timeouts and the clock ticking, UConn hustled up the floor, looking to set up what would likely be their final opportunity to either tie the game or reclaim the lead. After a few seconds to get settled, a few off-ball screens led to good movement and a few different options. But, it was Cam Spencer - who finished 2-for-12, 1-for-7 from the three-point line - who took the final shot; a fadeaway contested three in the corner, which corralled off the rim and into the hands of a Kansas defender. It effectively ended the game.
For as loud as the Phog Allen faithful were, the Huskies don’t seem to think it made too much of an impact. “I don't think the crowd really affected us…we just came out flat,” said Newton after the game.
“Just like Kansas, at UConn we don't do the moral victories or silver linings,” said Dan Hurley. “I thought the program and our guys showed a champion's heart by putting ourselves in position to have a three to steal it, and get out of here with a win.”
Whether you think it was the crowd, the coach, simply a really good team, or a combination of them all, one thing is for certain: Kansas proved its worth amongst the NCAA’s most formidable teams this year.
And regardless…Allen Fieldhouse rightfully gets the assist.