Archive for Thursday, November 27, 1997


November 27, 1997


— Arizona State grabbed 16 steals and forced 27 turnovers, but No. 2-ranked Kansas survived, 90-88, in overtime.

These basketball teams from Arizona give Kansas trouble, don't they?

Ousted from the NCAA Tournament by eventual national champion Arizona last March, the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (5-0) needed overtime to subdue pesky Arizona State, 90-88, on Wednesday night in a Preseason NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

It took a high-arching Billy Thomas three-pointer, one that kicked high in the air and fell through the hoop with :11 seconds left in overtime, to finally subdue the Sun Devils (3-1).

"If that is the last-place team in the Pac-10, that is a very good league. I'd like to see the first-place team," Thomas said after scoring 19 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting.

Thomas scored eight points in the fourth quarter and eight in OT against the team picked last in the Pac-10's preseason media poll.

"Billy hit one that crawled in there at the end and it was the biggest play of the game," Kansas coach Roy Williams said of the shot that turned an 88-87 deficit into a 90-88 victory.

"You could use the word 'relieved' if you wanted to. Use 'lucky' if you want because we were very lucky at times tonight."

Lucky or not, the Jayhawks will meet 4-0 Florida State in the Preseason NIT finals, set for 6:30 p.m., Lawrence time, Friday night.

Thomas' game-winning three -- ASU's Jeremy Veal, who scored 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting missed a long three at :03 -- needed a lucky bounce before it dropped.

"I felt it was good when I let it go. But as it got closer to the basket, I thought it was short. I was grateful it hit the rim," Thomas said. "It had a soft roll. It's what those Spalding balls will do for you."

There were some scary moments for KU when the ball hit the rim and caromed high in the air -- very high.

"It bounced above the backboard," said senior point guard C.B. McGrath, who started the play by feeding the ball to Raef LaFrentz, who passed to Thomas on the wing. McGrath was playing in place of Ryan Robertson, who fouled out in the OT.

"The ways the balls were bouncing for us tonight, I didn't think it'd go in," McGrath noted.

"I was praying the ball wouldn't go over the backboard. I was waiting for it to come down. I was there for the rebound," said LaFrentz. He scored 18 points and had nine rebounds, but missed two free throws with 1:54 left in overtime, KU down 86-85.

"I was worried when the ball started to spin up, but Billy puts such touch on the ball it had to go in."

KU junior Paul Pierce, who scored 28 points with nine rebounds, put the Jayhawks in position to win by hitting two free throws with 1:14 left in OT, cutting an 88-85 deficit to one point. ASU missed a shot on its next trip, setting up the Thomas heroics.

Earlier, Pierce missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds in regulation, the score tied 78-78.

"Paul carried the team a long, long time," Williams said of Pierce, who had 21 of KU's first 46 points. "He feels real bad about the missed free throws. Like I told him in the locker room, if he hadn't played his tail off we'd not have been in position anyway."

The Jayhawks committed 27 turnovers against ASU's active zone defense. ASU had 16 steals. Only one other opponent -- Colorado in 1995 -- had more thefts (17) against a Roy Williams team.

"We had 16 turnovers playing against their zone. Not one turnover was against the press, not one," Williams said. "They were more scrappy, more into it than we were and you don't find me saying that about our team often."

The game was close throughout. It was 35-35 at halftime; 55-55 after three quarters and 78-78 after regulation.

"We definitely can learn from this," point guard Ryan Robertson said. "Jelani (Janisse) and C.B. (McGrath) got some experience in pressure situations tonight and did a great job. We kept our poise; our two All-Americans Raef and Paul were great and Billy hit the shot at the end. I look at it as a big win for us."

Connecticut will meet ASU in Friday's consolation game at 4 p.m., Lawrence time, with the KU game to start about 6:30 p.m.

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