KANSAS CITY, Mo. - This time, Derek Kellogg's team cut off Kansas's final shot.
Tireless Tony Gaffney, ordered by Kellogg "to cover everybody," deflected Sherron Collins's floater in the final seconds to preserve a 61-60 win for the University of Massachusetts over the defending national champion Jayhawks, who entered yesterday's game at the Sprint Center ranked No. 25.
"We're continuing to make strides," Kellogg said. "Our kids understand that we fight to the end. When you do that, usually the outcome is pretty good."
It was a sweet ending for Kellogg, and not just because this was the best win in his first season as UMass coach. Kellogg was an assistant with Memphis in the NCAA title game last April, when Memphis blew a 9-point lead with less than three minutes remaining and lost to Kansas, 75-68, in overtime.
Kellogg tried to redirect attention to his players, but they recognized what this victory meant to their rookie coach.
"He said he had a bone to pick with that team," senior guard Chris Lowe said. "He wanted to win this game, and we went out and won it."
Said guard Ricky Harris, "I know that [title] game was hard for him to swallow. We told Coach that we were going to compete, but we didn't guarantee a win."
After Lowe missed a pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining, Kansas set up its final play. Kellogg bet the Jayhawks would use the same play that led to the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation in the national championship game: a triple handoff into a screen, with a high-scoring guard taking the shot.
Collins tried to drive and flip in a layup, but he missed for the 15th time in 21 shot attempts as Gaffney got a piece of the ball with six seconds remaining.
Gaffney remembered a similar situation earlier this season, when during a 57-56 loss to Toledo Dec. 3, he deflected a last-second layup attempt by the Rockets but Toledo scored on a putback just before the buzzer.
"The basketball gods haven't been with us," Gaffney said. "They were with us today. It's a great feeling that all the hard work and effort finally paid off."
Gaffney played 38 minutes despite taking blows to the right knee and left ankle. And he showed how to influence a game without scoring much, providing team highs in rebounds (13), blocked shots (6), steals (3), and assists (3) to go with 6 points.
Gaffney played the entire second half with three fouls. He was able to stay out of further foul trouble by not trying to block every shot and being relieved of the difficult assignment of guarding Kansas's Cole Aldrich, who at 6 feet 11 inches and 245 pounds had a decided size advantage over Gaffney (6-8, 208).
Aldrich had six offensive rebounds and 8 points in the first half. With Gaffney carrying three fouls and 7-footer Luke Bonner unavailable with a knee injury, Kellogg put 6-9 freshman Tyrell Lynch on Aldrich, and Lynch helped limit the Kansas big man to 4 points and no offensive rebounds in the second half.
Lynch admitted to being nervous, but not scared, to face a player who participated in the national title game last spring while he was preparing for his high school prom.
"Crazy," Lynch said. "Sort of surreal. I guess I've got to get used to it."
Kansas (7-2) made several second-half runs. But Jayhawks coach Bill Self hurt the cause by receiving a technical foul with 5:45 remaining.
Self had been complaining to the officials most of the game. After another call he perceived to be unjust, Self was whistled for the technical for waving his hands in disgust. Harris, who led UMass (3-6) with 18 points, made both free throws.
"The coach has to know better," Self said.
As for Kellogg, he knows he left town with a win that could jump-start his program.