A couple of months ago C.B. McGrath was so far down the Kansas basketball bench he was in the 913 area code.
Today McGrath still spends most of his time on the KU bench, but he plays a lot more than he did in early December and he makes it count -- as in Sunday's 80-70 victory over Missouri in Allen Fieldhouse.
McGrath's steal of a Missouri in-bounds pass with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining wiped a large amount of sweat off the Jayhawks' collective foreheads.
"C.B.'s steal was a big-time play," teammate Raef LaFrentz said. "It might have been the play of the game."
McGrath, a 5-foot-11 senior who spells starting point guard Ryan Robertson, had just fed LaFrentz for a baseline layup to increase the Jayhawks' precarious lead to 68-63.
Moments later, McGrath swiped an in-bounds pass from Missouri point guard Brian Grawer, and Paul Pierce made the Tigers pay with a basket that juiced KU's advantage to seven.
"I caught them off guard," McGrath said. "I just started at the three-point line and waited until they threw the pass in bounds. He (Grawer) tried to pass it to (Jeff) Hafer. It was a soft bounce pass and I was there between them, and I just picked it up."
McGrath is a former walk-on who has already logged about twice as many minutes this season as he did in the last two seasons combined when he was the No. 3 point guard behind Robertson and Jacque Vaughn.
McGrath began this season as the No. 3 point man behind Robertson and junior college transfer Jelani Janisse, but was elevated to No. 2 in December when Janisse struggled.
McGrath put in a typical dozen minutes Sunday, accumulating three points and three assists with no turnovers. His only basket was -- not surprisingly -- a layup.
In fact, McGrath can't remember the last time he shot a non-layup.
"It's been awhile," he said, smiling.
McGrath had to smile on Friday when coach Roy Williams introduced the Jayhawks to living coaching legend Dean Smith, a former Topekan who was a back-up point guard on the 1952 Kansas NCAA championship team.
When Williams introduced McGrath, a Topeka West product, the KU coach quipped: "C.B. thinks he's the best point guard ever to come out of Topeka."
Smith laughed and so did everybody else, including McGrath.
"Coach just said that to get people laughing," McGrath said.
Meanwhile, McGrath's performance Sunday had everybody smiling, notably Robertson who realized the importance of McGrath's dramatic Sunday moment.
"There's not a guy on the team I'm happier for," Robertson said. "He's a Kansas guy and nobody plays harder for Kansas than he does."
McGrath is, in fact, the only native Kansan scholarship player on the roster.
"He loves to play and he does such a good job when I'm out of the game," Robertson said. "I would hate to play against him."