Recap: Jayhawks struggle against Aztecs’ intensity, lose 61-57
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Every shot Kansas put up seemed to clank off the rim. Every one that San Diego State missed seemed to end up back in its hands, there for an easy layup or wide open dunk.
You would have thought it was the Jayhawks who were playing on the road.
Instead, the 21st-ranked Aztecs persevered down the stretch behind 16 points from Xavier Thames, whose four free throws in the closing seconds Sunday sealed a 61-57 victory over No. 16 Kansas, ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse.
"The way I see it, we got exactly what we deserved. They were better than us," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who had more Big 12 titles (nine straight) on his resume coming into the game than he had losses (eight overall) at the Jayhawks’ venerable on-campus arena.
"This is a hard place to win," Self said. "They made us play poorly."
Still, Kansas (9-4) had a chance to tie the game when Perry Ellis went to the free throw line with 11.9 seconds left. He made his first free throw but, after San Diego State (12-1) called time out to ice him, Ellis missed the second and the Jayhawks were forced to foul.
Thames made both free throws to give San Diego State a three-point lead, and the Aztecs fouled rather than allow Kansas to attempt a tying 3. Frank Mason missed the first and made the second, and Thames made two more free throws with 4.6 seconds left to seal the win.
"We all missed shots we usually make," said freshman Andrew Wiggins, who had 14 points for the Jayhawks, "and that’s going to happen from time to time with a young team."
Mason also finished with 14 points, and Joel Embiid had 12 points and 12 rebounds for Kansas, which had won 112 of its past 114 games at Allen Fieldhouse.
"Every play we made, it seemed like they came down, they got something positive out of the next possession," Mason said. "We just couldn’t get the stops we needed."
Skylar Spencer finished with 13 points and Josh Davis had 10 for the Aztecs, who have won 11 straight since losing to No. 1 Arizona on Nov. 14. That streak is tied for the second-best in school history and trails only the 20-0 start of the 2010-11 team.
The Jayhawks struggled against the long, lanky Aztecs right from the start, missing eight of their first nine shots and allowing San Diego State to dictate the tempo.
After a 3-pointer by Naadir Tharpe gave Kansas a 9-8 lead, the Jayhawks had just one more field goal over the next 8-plus minutes. Thames and Davis had no such trouble for San Diego State, hitting a series of jumpers and contested layups as the Aztecs built a 29-23 halftime lead.
Kansas wound up shooting 20.7 percent (6 of 29) in the first half.
"They missed some shots," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said, "but we didn’t give them a lot of shots from the sweet spots, where they wanted them."
The Aztecs kept up the intensity in the second half, forcing the Jayhawks to misfire on eight of their first 10 shots with their in-your-face, man-to-man defense. The lead slowly grew to 44-33 when JJ O’Brien converted after two misses, once more silencing a packed crowd at the Phog.
The Jayhawks finally started to build some momentum midway through the second half, closing within 58-56 on a basket by Wiggins and 50-48 on Tharpe’s scooping layup.
It seemed as if every time Kansas went on a run, though, the Aztecs had an answer.
Spencer scored after Tharpe’s basket, and Thames curled in a 3-pointer to give San Diego State a 55-48 lead with 3 minutes to play. Kansas made one more salvo, getting within 57-55 on a 3-pointer by Mason and seemingly getting the ball back after O’Brien missed a free throw.
During a stoppage in play, the officials determined that the ball went off Kansas with 44.8 seconds left. And even though the Jayhawks got a stop, it cost them precious time.
Self called a timeout with 20 seconds left and decided to go with Ellis, the sure-handed sophomore. He drove to the basket and was fouled, but the 72 percent free throw shooter could only make the first of his two attempts, and San Diego State eventually held on to win.
"This is a great win for us," Thames said. "A lot of teams don’t come in here and get victories. I’m just blessed to be a part of this one."