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March 14, 2008

No. 5 Kansas able to hold off Nebraska

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Like the hysterical movie hero who calms down and collects himself after a slap across the face, Bill Self felt like saying, "Thanks, Nebraska - we needed that."

Fifth-ranked Kansas played perhaps its worst 20 minutes of the season Friday night, falling nine points behind a Nebraska team it had beaten 19 of the last 20 times they'd played. But Brandon Rush helped key a 14-4 getaway in the second half and the Jayhawks held on for a 64-54 Big 12 tournament victory that might help them keep their cool in tight spots down the road.

"I told our guys that we needed this. We needed to be behind in the first half," said Self, the Jayhawks' relieved coach. "You don't ever like it when your team doesn't perform. But how many teams have done well in the NCAA tournament that haven't been behind?"

Kansas (29-3), a 15-point favorite, had 12 turnovers and only eight field goals in a ragged and sloppy first half and trailed 27-22 at intermission. The hugely partisan crowd in Kansas City's new Sprint Center sat in stunned silence as Nebraska gathered momentum and confidence and began to look almost dominant.

But Darnell Jackson scored the first basket of the second half, then Mario Chalmers made a long 3-pointer to launch the comeback and Nebraska (19-12) never recovered.

"We just weren't ourselves," Self said. "We seemed slow, we were careless, we seemed nonchalant. The second half I thought we came out and played like I thought we would to start the game. We haven't been behind much this year so it was good to see that we can change it at halftime."

The 22 points tied for Kansas' low total in a half this season. The underdog Huskers, who seemed to gain energy as Kansas kept fouling and throwing the ball away, wound up with 15 points off turnovers in the first half while the Jayhawks had none.

"We just knew from the start that we have a chance to beat them," Nebraska's Sek Henry said. "We knew they blew us out two times already so they were probably going to come out sluggish. So we just came out hard and we hit them with a blow. But then in the second half they kind of hit us with a blow back."

The Huskers were not surprised Kansas came out of the halftime locker room with fire in their eyes.

"We were expecting it because they're Kansas," Henry said.

Physical from the outset, the game almost got out of hand when Jackson went to the bench after catching an elbow in the stomach that knocked the wind out of him. Then with 1:19 left, Sherron Collins drove in for a layup and got fouled by Nebraska's Ade Dagunduro.

Collins jawed at Dagunduro and by the time tempers had cooled, technical fouls were assessed to Collins and the Nebraska bench.

Collins wound up with 13 points. and Jackson and Chalmers each had 12 for the Jayhawks.

Dagunduro had 13 points for Nebraska, but only three in the second half. Paul Velander had 12 points for Nebraska and Aleks Maric, Nebraska's All-Big 12 senior center, had 10 points after being held scoreless - for the first time in three years - in an 84-49 loss at Kansas.

"You know a team as good as Kansas, that second half is going to come out and just try to knock you out in the first five minutes," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "They hit us hard and we didn't respond aggressively."

Rush hit a reverse layup during the take-charge run opening the second half, drew a foul, and made the free throw to give the Jayhawks a one-point lead. A few minutes later Rush capped the 15-4 run with an uncontested 3-pointer for a 37-31 lead with 14:16 left.

"In the second half we played our type of game," said Rush. "We just wanted to get out and pressure and get a lot of fastbreak points."

Dagunduro had 10 points and a huge block of Darrell Arthur's attempted dunk in the first half, and also had a bucket nullified on a basket interference call that infuriated the Huskers' bench.

"It was one of the worst offensive halves we have played all year," Collins said.

Typical of the way the Jayhawks played in the early going was Jackson's foul on Cookie Miller. Kansas played good defense for an entire possession, finally forcing Miller to put up an off-balance jumper that had no prayer of going in.

But Jackson fouled him on the shot, causing Self to grimace and turn away.

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

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