Kansas survives scare from Western Kentucky
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just when they thought they were out of the woods, the Kansas Jayhawks had to put out one more forest fire.
No. 16 seed Western Kentucky, perhaps inspired by two earlier upsets Friday at Sprint Center, made a final last-ditch run at No. 1 KU before the Jayhawks escaped with a 64-57 NCAA Tournament West Regional victory.
The Jayhawks, who improved to 30-5, will face No. 8 seed North Carolina at 4:15 p.m. Sunday in the third round with the winner of that game advancing to the regional semifinals in Irving, Texas. North Carolina beat Villanova in the early evening game, 78-71.
Kansas shot 18 for 22 from the free-throw line in the second half, including 9 of 10 in the last 46 seconds to hold off a wild Western Kentucky rally down the stretch. The Hilltoppers finished at 20-16.
KU, which trailed 31-30 at halftime, scored the first four points of the second period but needed a six-point run to go up 53-42 on Travis Releford's free throw with 3:08 left. That's when Wester Kentucky made its final charge, cutting it to six on a three-point play and two free throws from Jamal Crook, then trimming it to 55-50 with a 3-pointer from T.J. Price.
A Brandon Harris three made it 59-55, but the Jayhawks hit their free throws at the end to hold on.
Jeff Withey had 17 points, with Ben McLemore and Releford each adding 11 to lead KU, which shot 47.6 percent from the floor but turned the ball over 17 times and was outrebounded by the Hilltoppers, 41-35.
Crook scored 13 points to lead a balanced Western Kentucky attack, followed by Price with 12, Aleksejs Rostov with 11 and George Fant with 10.
Western Kentucky led by a point after a first half that saw six ties and 11 lead changes with neither team up by more than four points.
Big man Rostov had nine points — nearly twice his season average — and forward Fant eight to lead Western Kentucky at the break. The Hilltoppers shot 48.1 percent from the field in the half and were 1-of-6 from 3-point range but outrebounded KU, 18-13.
The Jayhawks missed all five of their 3-point attempts in the period, shooting 48 percent overall. Withey led the way with eight points, Perry Ellis had seven and Releford six.
Ellis came off the bench to spark the Jayhawks offensively, knocking down 3 of 4 shots and converting one of two three-point opportunities. Leading scorer McLemore was limited to a dunk off an inbounds pass, going 1 for 4 from the floor.
KU struggled against Western Kentucky's pressure defense, turning the ball over nine times in the half, leading to six points. The Hilltoppers had seven turnovers and were rejected twice inside by Withey, who sat the last 3 1/2 minutes of the period with two fouls.
Rostov gave Western Kentucky a 20-16 lead on an inbounds dunk from under the basket and the Hilltoppers had two chances to extend it before a three-point play from Ellis cut it to one with 7:02 left. Jayhawks tied it at 25 on Jamari Traylor's basket, then went in front, 28-27, on a three-point play by Elijah Johnson at the 1:29 mark.
Crook broke down the KU defense with a pair of drives down the middle, the last one putting the Hilltoppers in front with 45 seconds left.