Kansas runner-up Bobby Pettiford’s wild put-back of a deep 3-point miss with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime helped No. 3 Kansas weather a scare from Wisconsin, 69-68 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Thursday.
While the game-winning rebound and bullet shot caused a celebration with Kansas fans chanting his name, neither Pettiford nor Kansas coach Bill Self left the gym thinking the shot could be repeated.
“If he thinks about it, he can’t do it,” Self said. “It came naturally and luckily he made it. It was an athletic game. … I don’t know if he would do it again in 10 tries but it was good that he did it. It was a great shot.”
Pettiford’s shot came from a rare tumble to the glass by the 6ft-1 guard, who is more used to going back on defense when shots go up.
In this instance, with Kansas dropping a point in the closing seconds, there was no reason to worry about the defense after Zach Clemence let his 26-foot 3-point attempt fly after KU junior Jalen Wilson’s drive was cut off to the edge by the Wisconsin defenses.
“As soon as he shot I just ran at full speed, the ball fell into my hands so I just flicked up a bit and it went in,” said a smiling Pettiford after the win. “A bit of luck and skill at the same time.”
The ending was in complete contrast to the way this game was played consistently. Both teams fought their way out of goal offensively, but Kansas took control midway through the first half when Gradey Dick hit a pair of 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
This set off a 27-14 run from Kansas to end the final 11 minutes of the first half and KU went into the dressing room 33-20.
Despite the Jayhawks leading 33-15 in the 45-minute game, Wisconsin never went out.
Kansas led by 15 (41-26) midway through the second half, but saw that lead disappear entirely as Wisconsin took a 52-50 lead. KU responded to this deficit with a 10-0 run, but also saw this cushion evaporate.
“They totally outplayed us,” Self said of the final minutes of regulation and overtime.
While Wisconsin’s style dictated how the game was played at critical moments, Kansas contributed to their own misery.
The Jayhawks turned it over 13 times Thursday — compared to Wisconsin’s six — and also made just 12 of 21 shots at the free-throw line for 57.1%.
However, there were also elements that went KU’s way. Wisconsin came into play after giving up just nine 3-pointers to their opponents in four games all season, and the Jayhawks hit nine in that game alone.
Dick and McCullar made three each and Wilson hit a pair. None were bigger than McCullar’s bomb from the top of the key, forcing overtime.
After Wisconsin took a three lead after a late bucket from Tyler Wahl and two free throws from Connor Essegian, KU’s Zach Clemence missed on a potentially game-changing 3-pointer from the corner with 16 seconds left. However, Clemence chased his miss and fired a pass at McCullar at the top of the key while he was out of bounds. McCullar did the rest, confidently stepping in the shot and knocking him out.
That was a welcome sight for a Jayhawk who opened the game 0-of-5 from the floor and 0-of-4 from 3-point range. McCullar finished with 18 points and nine rebounds and made seven of his next 11 shots from a cold start.
“I tried to keep playing,” McCullar said of his approach after the rocky start early on. “My teammates kept encouraging me and I finally got one late when we needed it.”
Almost everything that happened late started with Wilson scoring 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds in another outstanding individual performance by KU’s leading scorer.
However, Wisconsin knew this would be KU’s plan and began sending several corpses to Wilson to stop him from hitting her. Wilson stayed balanced in those moments, doing what he could to get to the free throw line or find opportunities for others.
The late chance from Pettiford, who hadn’t scored all afternoon, wasn’t the direct result of a game by Wilson. But his presence and willingness to put the game on his shoulders makes it easier for others.
Wilson, Pettiford, McCullar and their teammates don’t care who gets the honors as long as the result goes to Kansas.
“Just finding a way to win,” Wilson said late about the mindset. “No matter what happens or how well or badly we play, we just have to find a way to win and we did.”
He adds: “We weren’t the best team today. However, we made some moves that allowed us to win and I’m delighted with the win and I’m happy that we’ll get a chance to play in the league game tomorrow.
“We didn’t think it was going to be a nice game and from my point of view it lived up to its bill.”
Friday’s championship game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.