ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Even before Kansas was made the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional, Jayhawks coach Roy Williams and his players had been hearing how they would make even a quicker exit in this year's tournament than they did a year ago.
"It was a challenge for us because for the last couple of weeks, people have been putting us in the grave," Williams said yesterday.
Kansas (26-6) rose to the challenge in the opening round against Ball State (26-8) at the Rosemont Horizon. The first 30 minutes were a struggle for the Jayhawks against a team Williams had called "the best 15th seed in the history of the tournament," but the last 10 were pretty impressive.
Leading by only two with 13 minutes left and by eight with a little under eight minutes remaining, Kansas ran off 10 straight points and 14 of the game's last 16 to advance to tomorrow's second round with a 94-72 victory. The Jayhawks will play BYU, an 80-71 winner over SMU in the second game.
"Everyone has been telling Kansas how poorly they had been playing," said Ball State coach Dick Hunsaker, whose Cardinals made only one of their last nine shots and still wound up shooting 52.7 percent from the field. "It was like telling Christie Brinkley she was losing it."
There were some who thought Rex Walters was losing it. Not his looks, but his jump shot. The senior guard had missed 10 of 13 overall and six of seven three-pointers in his team's upset loss to Kansas State last week in the Big Eight Tournament semifinals.
Walters wasn't a perfect 10 yesterday, but he was close. He hit his first five shots and his last two, missing only two in between. Included in that were all six of his threes, tying an NCAA tournament record for shooting treys without missing.
"When I get off to a slow start, it's because I am not motivated," said Walters, who finished with 23 points and five assists in only 29 minutes. "When I'm doing all the little things, it comes out like today."
Walters wasn't the only one with a hot hand. Senior center Eric Pauley hit nine of 13 for 18 points and junior forward Richard
Scott made six of nine for 16.
"They really lit us up from the outside," said Hunsaker. "For 30 minutes, we played as well as we can possibly play."
The Jayhawks, who were upset by UTEP in the second round in Dayton, Ohio, last year, played one of their best games in the past couple of months and shot better than 50 percent for the first time in more than two months.
"Everyone's talking about how poorly we'd been shooting," said Williams, whose team was leading the country in field-goal percentage the first month of the season. "But our standards had been so high that it was hard to measure up."
8, Christie Brinkley could probably relate.
California 66, LSU 64
Freshman point guard Jason Kidd's spinning drive that banked in with one second remaining gave the Bears the victory. Sixth-seed Cal (20-8), which won for the 10th time in 11 games under Todd Bozeman, advanced to the second round tomorrow against third-seeded Duke.
Kidd, who had 16 points and seven assists, pulled off his heroics after LSU forward Andre Owen had missed a wide open 18-footer with 25 seconds to go. Lamond Murray, who led the Bears with 23 points, had an off-balance shot in the lane blocked with a little more than one minute left. Murray and Owen had each scored clutch baskets with the score tied at 61.
Finally, after the teams traded free throws to tie the game at 64, Kidd spun down the lane past LSU guard Paul Johnson, warded off Tigers center Geert Hammink with his left arm and hit a shot high off the backboard. A desperation pass went off Hammink's
hands and out of bounds as the buzzer sounded.
BYU 80, SMU 71
After running off to a 29-15 lead with a little more than three minutes left in the first half, No. 7 seed Brigham Young (25-8) saw 10th-seeded Southern Methodist (20-8) get within four at halftime and within two three times early in the second half.
Leading 74-69, the Cougars hit seven of nine free throws in the final 57.9 seconds. Senior center Gary Trost, who hit five of seven free throws down the stretch, finished with a game-high 26 points. Tim Mason led the Stags with 18.
Recalling last year's opening-round loss to LSU, in which Shaquille O'Neal blocked an NCAA tournament record 11 shots, BYU coach Roger Reid said, "Not to take anything away from SMU, but it was a lot easier tonight."