Jayhawks collapse in second half, lose 89-68 to Gonzaga in second round

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) throws a pass to the wing while pressured by Gonzaga forward Graham Ike (13) and Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg (33) during the first half on Saturday, March 23, 2024 in Salt Lake City. Photo by Nick Krug

Salt Lake City — An excellent shooting performance gave Kansas a one-point halftime lead and plenty of hope Saturday afternoon against Gonzaga.

But the offensive outburst was a mirage.

After shooting 50% from the field in the first half and, more remarkably, 7-for-11 from deep — the most 3s KU had made in a game, let alone a half, since January — the Jayhawks regressed hard, shooting 28% and 18% after the break.

“The lid wouldn’t come off,” junior KJ Adams said.

As Gonzaga kept up its own fast pace and at one point scored 15 straight points, a back-and-forth thriller earlier in the day turned into a one-sided blowout, and the result was an 89-68 defeat at the Delta Center to conclude KU’s season.

“I think it was just a tale of two halves,” center Hunter Dickinson said. “One team playing a complete game and one team playing one half really good, and the second half just kind of unraveled a little bit for us down there. I think it was just hard. They were hitting tough shots. I think we were competing up there, but sometimes competing just isn’t enough.”

The Jayhawks, who at one point did not score for seven minutes and seven seconds, lost in the second round of the tournament for the fourth time in five tries — the lone exception, of course, being the 2022 national-title campaign. The result concludes their season at 23-11 after they began the year as the AP’s preseason No. 1 team.

Dickinson led KU with 15 points, as Dajuan Harris Jr. and Adams reached double figures, with Harris adding 11 assists. None of the Kansas starters had more than four points in the second half.

Gonzaga’s standout forward Graham Ike struggled with foul trouble and had 15 points and nine rebounds, as the rest of the Zags picked up the slack. Anton Watson scored 21 on 8-for-11 shooting and Nolan Hickman went for 17 more, including a 3-for-4 showing from beyond the arc. Ben Gregg was perfect overall and added 15.

“It’s disappointing today that there was absolutely no sign of being able to slow them down,” KU coach Bill Self said.

Kansas missed its first three shots of the day and Gonzaga made three of four to force an early timeout by Self. That seemed to do the trick initially, as Johnny Furphy hit a 3 off a good find by Dickinson and then drove in for a conventional three-point play.

Spurred by those strong plays out of the stoppage, the Jayhawks embarked on an 18-6 run to grab the lead and continued answering each Gonzaga basket with ease, as when Gregg drove in and scored on Furphy through a foul but Adams finished a lob moments later.

After starting 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, the Bulldogs got 3-pointers from Braden Huff, Hickman and Gregg to earn a 27-26 lead; however, a second foul on Gonzaga’s Ike consigned one of the Zags’ top players to the bench. Ike ultimately played just six minutes in the first half.

Even so, the KU offense stagnated completely and Gregg faked out of a 3 to find Huff for a strong dunk to put the Bulldogs ahead six points. An exasperated Self called another timeout.

Then the game kicked into gear in the final minutes of the half, with the Jayhawks draining 3s at an exceedingly uncharacteristic rate. Dickinson, who has been sharp from distance in recent games after a slump that encompassed most of the conference season, connected twice and was soon joined by Furphy (again) and Harris.

Dickinson’s second put KU up 44-41 with one possession left for the Bulldogs before the half. He fouled Gregg on a second-chance layup attempt that fell, but Gregg missed the ensuing free throw to send both teams into the break with the Jayhawks ahead by one.

“Him getting a second foul with 1.2 seconds left stunk for us because we didn’t defensive rebound the ball,” Self said. “If we got the rebound, obviously that doesn’t happen.”

KU’s seven 3s in the first half were more than it had scored in the entirety of each of its previous 12 games.

The Jayhawks hit another one, via Nick Timberlake, at the shot-clock buzzer to open the second half. But that was about all they could get.

“It’s just one of those days, really,” Furphy said. “We just couldn’t really see the ball go through the ring in the second half.”

Ike returned to hit three quick buckets against a lacking KU defense as part of a 15-0 run that gave Gonzaga its largest lead of the day, as Furphy got plenty of shots but struggled to regain his first-half form. A fadeaway jumper by Ike made it 63-49 before Dickinson finally hit a hook shot, but Watson responded with a 3-pointer that pushed the margin even wider.

“We really just needed to focus on ball-screen defense,” Furphy said. “They really picked us apart on the ball-screen defense.”

With 10:52 remaining, Timberlake missed at the shot-clock buzzer at one end and fell down at the other, leading to a 3 for Gregg that made it 71-53 and prompted Self to halt the action once again with 10:52 to go.

Elmarko Jackson’s layup with 5:45 to go ended the stretch of more than seven minutes without a point for the Jayhawks.

“The season’s been long and hard, especially for me,” Adams said. “A lot of stuff going on with the team. For all that to end just like this, it really hit me hard this time.”

Gonzaga will advance to the Sweet 16 in Detroit, as KU heads back home to Lawrence.


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