March 9, 2003
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Kansas needed two improbable long shots to wrap up its second straight Big 12 championship.
Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich both barely beat the shot clock with 3-pointers from well beyond the line in the final 1:20, the deciding plays in the sixth-ranked Jayhawks' 79-74 victory over Missouri on Sunday.
"Kirk told me the next shot he got he was going to make so that one didn't surprise me," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "Aaron's was just luck."
Hinrich and Nick Collison each had 20 points as Kansas (24-6, 14-2) denied Missouri its first unbeaten home schedule since 1993-94 as the Tigers finished 14-1 in the Hearnes Center. The Jayhawks also won in consecutive years at Missouri for the first time since 1992-93 despite committing 19 turnovers.
Kansas won the Big 12 despite losing forward Wayne Simien with a dislocated right shoulder in February, which made a short bench even shorter.
"If you had told me before the season that we were going to do it without Wayne, I would have thought there was no way," Williams said. "I really congratulate these kids, they went through some tough times.
"Nick and Kirk led the team, and did it all year long."
Hinrich connected for the game-winner with 23 seconds to go, a fadeaway from about 25 feet after Michael Lee rebounded an air ball by Collison and threw it outside, breaking a 74-all tie.
"As soon as I caught it I saw I had some room, and once I got the shot off I knew it was going in," Hinrich said. "And that was a great end to a great game, a rivalry game."
Williams was trying to call a timeout before Hinrich connected. He thought Collison's shot had grazed the rim, which would have reset the shot clock.
"Kirk had more savvy than the head coach and he knocked it in," Williams said.
Miles had hit from perhaps a step closer, a line drive with Missouri's Ricky Clemons draped all over him, with 1:20 left to tie it. Miles backpedaled sheepishly after the shot, a big smile on his face.
"I didn't expect it to be a shot put that went in, a two-handed sinker ball," Williams said.
Clemons didn't know what else he could have done.
"He made a tough shot," Clemons said. "Big players make big plays, and he made a big play."
Rickey Paulding missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in a bid to tie it again. Missouri never got another shot as Miles missed on a bonus free throw with 8.3 seconds to go but Kansas recovered when Collison tipped the ball to Miles in the corner and Miles flung it out to Jeff Graves.
Keith Langford added two free throws with 1.1 seconds left.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder bemoaned his team's tough luck, but only to a point.
"When you're fighting the heavyweight champ, you can't let it go to a decision," Snyder said. "You've got to knock them out and take the element of chance out of it."
Kansas, which has won 11 of 12, clinched a tie for the conference title with a victory at Texas Tech last Monday. The Jayhawks will open Big 12 tournament play Friday against the Texas A&M-Iowa State winner.
Missouri is the fifth seed and opens against 12th-seeded Nebraska on Thursday.
The Tigers had trailed by as many as nine points in the second half before rallying late.
Paulding and Clemons each had 21 points for Missouri. Paulding compensated for 5-for-20 shooting by going 11-for-11 at the free throw line, while Clemons made his last six shots after a 2-for-10 start.
Hinrich's heroics compensated for some uncharacteristic slipshod play. He dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds twice in a span of 1:14 in the second half, and also missed two straight free throws.
Kansas led 38-31 after a sloppy first half, during which the teams combined for 23 turnovers. Missouri, which trailed at halftime at home for the first time this season, had 11 turnovers and shot 26 percent. Clemons and Paulding were both off the mark, going 2-for-9, but Paulding was 9-for-9 at the free throw line.