Salukis Fall to Jayhawks
By: Associated Press & Heartland News
SAN JOSE, Ca. -- Kansas' run through the NCAA tournament was slowed to a crawl by scrappy Southern Illinois.
The Jayhawks got up just in time to move to the brink of the Final Four.
Brandon Rush scored 12 points without missing a shot, and Kansas eked out a 61-58 victory over Southern Illinois in the West Regional semifinals Thursday night.
Darrell Arthur and Russell Robinson scored nine points apiece to help the Jayhawks (27-4) barely avoid yet another Saluki surprise and another disappointing exit from the tournament. Kansas won its 14th straight game by nursing a small lead through the final minutes against a defense that made the Jayhawks' future NBA stars work exceptionally hard for every basket.
When Tony Young missed a desperate 3-point attempt from half-court at the buzzer, Kansas also dodged its second straight tournament loss at the hands of the Missouri Valley Conference, which takes the "mid" out of mid-major with each passing year. Butler beat the Jayhawks last season, but Kansas advanced to face the winner of UCLA's late game against Pittsburgh.
Jamaal Tatum scored 19 points in his final college game for the fourth-seeded Salukis (29-7), who couldn't get the break they needed to reach the round of eight for the first time in school history with just their second loss in 17 games.
Rush's driving layup with 25 seconds left provided the game's final points, but Tatum missed a chance to tie it on a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left. Randal Falker got the rebound for Southern Illinois, but lost the ball.
Kansas' Julian Wright then missed two potential clinching free throws, but Young couldn't hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night on the run, sending Kansas into a subdued, relieved celebration.
Southern Illinois decisively won the matchup's clash of styles, forcing a deliberate tempo on the high-flying Jayhawks while keeping the possessions long and the score low. The Salukis' defensive aggression and offensive rebounding were complemented by just enough big shots from its struggling scorers to keep it close.
Young scored 14 points on a poor shooting night, and Falker added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Salukis.
Tatum, the MVC's player of the year, shook off a 1-for-8 first half with an outstanding second half. He particularly embarrassed Mario Chalmers, hounding the Jayhawks' high-profile guard and baldly stripping the ball from him at least twice.
Kansas entered last weekend's opening rounds in Chicago as a popular pick to win it all after its roster packed with NBA prospects lost just twice since Dec. 2. The Jayhawks lived up to that billing in a fluid second-round win over Kentucky -- but Southern Illinois presented a defensive challenge that few teams had been able to overcome this season.
The Salukis earned their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and the highest seeding in school history after winning the MVC's regular-season title. Their second-round NCAA victory over Virginia Tech was their 29th, setting another school record.
Matt Shaw, whose streak of 81 consecutive starts for Southern Illinois ended when he sprained his ankle in the first-round victory, returned to uniform as the Salukis' first reserve off the bench, contributing nine points -- but he also missed an open shot in the final minutes.
Nine players got a field goal for the Jayhawks, with Chalmers also scoring nine points and Darnell Jackson adding eight.
After the schools traded the lead in the tense second half, Kansas went ahead for good with about 5 minutes left with points from Jackson and Rush. Southern Illinois had several chances to tie or go ahead -- but the Jayhawks' overlooked defense put just enough obstacles in the way.
Wright's free throw with 1:23 left put Kansas up 58-53, but Tatum hit a 3-pointer moments later. Chalmers hit a free throw, and Tatum added another jumper to cut the Jayhawks' lead to 59-58.
But Rush confidently drove the lane and flicked home a basket with the poise that might someday make him the best of his three basketball-playing brothers.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)