As big and strong a basketball team as Illinois is ...
No. 4-seeded Kansas, just might have defeated the No. 1-seeded Illini on Friday night had the Jayhawks taken care of business at the free-throw line.
The Jayhawks made 18 of 35 free throws to the U of I's 18 of 26 in an 80-64 Midwest Regional semifinal setback at the Alamodome.
"I used to have an old friend tell me, 'Free throws make you or break you,''' KU point guard Kirk Hinrich said after draining five of six charities.
Charities broke the Jayhawks.
Nick Collison hit six of 14, Kenny Gregory four of seven, Drew Gooden three of six and Eric Chenowith zero of two.
"We were not a 70 percent free-throw shooting team this year, so it's nothing new," KU forward Drew Gooden said.
KU finished the season a 65.9 percent free-throw shooting team.
"It was a big-time atmosphere, big-time game. For whatever reason they weren't going in," Gooden said.
KU hit five of 12 free throws the first half to Illinois' eight of 10 and fell behind, 41-29.
"The first half ... as ugly as we were, Drew missed a two-shot foul, Eric both (tries) and Kenny the first shot of a one-and-one," KU coach Roy Williams said. "Those would have helped us to say the least. The second half, we had it to five, six or seven and the first (of two) intentional foul was called and we missed both of 'em.
"Nick Collison is a very good free-throw shooter. He has been his entire life, but evidently the ball didn't feel good to him or something. My answer is I don't have an explanation.
"Eric had made 10 in a row in NCAA Tournament play (against Syracuse and Cal State Northridge) and missed two tonight."
Collison, who finished the year a 62.5 percent free thrower, missed two free throws after an intentional foul by Marcus Griffin with 6:32 left, KU down, 62-54. He also missed two free throws after an intentional foul by Lucas Johnson at :57.1, KU down, 73-64.
KU also failed to score on the inbounds possessions after both intentional fouls.
Some wondered if fatigue played a factor in Collison's misses. He scored a team-best 23 points with seven rebounds in 28 minutes while banging against the Illini's beefy front line.
"I was a little tired, but that didn't really play a factor," Collison said. "You get in a funk I guess ... they are harder to make when you miss a couple. It was frustrating when I missed five straight. I just wasn't making 'em."
Zip in finale
Chenowith, a senior center, didn't score in his final game as a collegian. The 7-footer had two boards in 22 minutes.
"It'll bother me (in the future)," Chenowith said of memories of his final game. "I didn't score. I don't think I took a shot."
Indeed, he didn't hoist a shot for first time in a game all season.
Chenowith and Gregory, another senior, have been invited to an NBA pre-draft camp in May in Phoenix. Performance at that camp can make or break a player as far as the June NBA Draft.
Gregory will compete in the slam dunk competition at the Final Four this weekend in Minneapolis. No Jayhawks are slated to play in the Final Four collegiate all-star game.
Williams can't comment publicly on the officiating, yet he clearly appeared dismayed at some of the calls in Friday's season-ending loss.
Of particular concern was the situation surrounding Hinrich's fourth foul with 14:45 left.
First Hinrich went down in a heap, turning the ball over on the offensive end when it appeared he may have been hammered by an Illini player. Back on the defensive end, Hinrich seconds later bumped Sean Harrington for his fourth foul.
Three Illinois players and two KU players fouled out as the Illini picked up 26 fouls to KU's 23.
"I knew it'd be physical," Chenowith said. "What surprised me is the refs were calling so many fouls. It was knockdown, dragout. We didn't get in the flow of things. We'd score a basket and get called for a foul. We'd score, then a foul. There was no flow to that game."
Adding insult to injury ... at one point, Williams accidentally was elbowed in the jaw -- fairly hard -- by one of the refs who was charging by and didn't see the Jayhawk coach.
"Did you do that on purpose," KU's coach yelled, somewhat jokingly, at the ref.
More on Gooden
Williams has said he is "not concerned" Gooden might leave for the NBA. One of Gooden's family members chuckled heartily then said "No," when asked if he thought the sophomore would leave for the pros.
Gooden said he's going to discuss his options with family members.
"Now that the tournament is over, it's time to talk with my family and think about the decision I'm going to make," he said. "To see my options, the aspects (positives) of me leaving and the negatives of me leaving. If I will end my career after today, it'd be a bad taste in my mouth, not winning. But if I do leave, I'd look back and say I tried my best."