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Friday, December 3, 2010
TMA: Merry Early Christmas, Jayhawks

By Eamonn Brennan

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action. It recommends at least eight hours of sleep, but rarely takes its own advice.

No. 4 Kansas 77, UCLA 76: So, yeah. About that Kansas finish.

In case you missed it -- and if you follow any of the same people I follow on Twitter, you probably didn't -- the Jayhawks got one of the kinder foul calls in the history of college basketball Thursday night. That's barely an exaggeration. After UCLA guard Tyler Honeycutt tied the game at 76 with five seconds remaining, Mario Little recovered a loose ball at the free throw line. With less than a second left, UCLA guard Malcolm Lee bumped into Little just as Little tossed up a wayward prayer of a shot. And, yes, the refs called a foul.

Mario Little
Mario Little hit the game-winning free throw with less than a second left in the game.
Well, not exactly. There was a whistle somewhere in there, and then the referees deliberated, and then they consulted the monitor. (And, yes, you can consult the monitor in such situations.) After looking at the play, the officials decided the foul occurred with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Little got two free throws. He made the first, intentionally missed the second, and Kansas escaped with a 77-76 victory.

And make no mistake, this was an escape. There was nothing convincing about Kansas' performance. If you hadn't seen either of these teams before, and had no access to top 25 rankings or college hoops information of any kind, you could have been convinced that these two teams are equals. This is exceedingly good news for a rebuilding UCLA team still figuring out where it stands with its young lineup.

Honeycutt was brilliant (33 points on 11-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from beyond the arc) and freshman forward Joshua Smith, who came into UCLA this summer facing concerns about his weight, appeared capable of using that weight to his advantage. Smith scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, making KU's interior players look slight by comparison. You know, maybe Smith should keep the weight. Whatever works, right?

Anyway, Merry Christmas, Kansas. Not only did you avoid an upset win in Phog Allen, but you set a team record for consecutive home victories, all thanks to an incredibly specious foul call that most officials wouldn't ever, ever dare call. There's nothing saying you wouldn't have won the game in overtime, and this might just be a blip on the radar, but still, you got a gift. Be appreciative. (And we viewers got a gift too: Watching Ben Howland throw whatever it was he threw after the foul call -- double-clutching and careful not to hit anyone on his bench -- was as hilarious and perfect an expression of frustration as any UCLA fan could have imagined. Too funny.)

No. 8 Missouri 83, Oregon 80: For much of the season, Missouri has been falling behind early only to make a late run and either pull away (as in most games) or pull close (as in the Georgetown loss Tuesday night). The opposite happened Thursday night. Mizzou raced out to a 44-24 halftime lead only to squander it in the second half, when Oregon scored 56 points and made 8-of-15 3-pointers. Imagine when the Tigers actually manage to play two halves of good basketball.

No. 10 Baylor 68, Arizona State 54: Baylor continues to roll along, thanks in large part to LaceDarius Dunn, who again did what LaceDarius Dunn does: hit a bunch of 3-pointers (six), score a bunch of points (24) and lead his team to victories. There is one troubling sign concerning Dunn, though. From the afore-linked AP report:
While going for an offensive rebound, and being called for a foul, Dunn fell hard and was on the court writhing in pain. He went to the bench and was still rubbing his arm and grimacing when getting ready to return 2 minutes later.

"It's tender right now. It's hurting," Dunn said after the game. "I went up for the rebound and just came down wrong."

Initially, Dunn didn't ask to come back in the game, only his third this season for Baylor (6-0).

"I wasn't at first, because I couldn't feel it," he said. "After I got my arm back, I told coach I was all right. I hope it's just bruised. ... I hope it's nothing broken or fractured or anything like that."

Dunn said he will have X-rays on Friday.

It doesn't sound broken -- hard to imagine Dunn coming back in the game with a broken arm, isn't it? -- but Baylor fans will wait with bated breath until Dunn is officially cleared Friday. In the meantime, Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has apparently never heard of Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker. Again, from the AP:
"Dunn is clearly one of the top two guards in the country," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.

By the end of the year? Completely possible. Dunn is that good, and he was that good last year. But for now, the crown resides squarely on the head of Mr. Walker, at least until he stops scoring 30 points every single game. Hard to dethrone that.

Everywhere else: Cleveland State remains undefeated ... Murray State managed to avoid an even further slip from their preseason mid-major darling status, surviving its first Ohio Valley game 74-72 at Eastern Kentucky ... Gardner Webb beat something called High Point ... Wake Forest's RPI took another hit, as Deacon-conquerers Stetson fell to Jacksonville ... And, in obligatory St. Francis vs. St. Francis news, St. Francis won. Shocker! (But which one won? The one from New York. And now you know.)