By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle
LAWRENCE There were 8.4 seconds on the clock, and Bill Self called for the play called “Chop.”
In the end, when the situation is most dire, when the wreckage is nearly unsalvageable, Self always calls Chop.
This was no different. It was last year January, a Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas trailed Iowa State by three points in the final moments of regulation. Kansas was 8.4 seconds away from losing its first Big 12 opener in more than two decades. And so the Jayhawks went to the familiar script of Chop, the same play Mario Chalmers had once made famous against Memphis.
A dribble handoff. A ball screen. A fade screen on the other side of the court. If you ask Kansas players why “Chop” almost always seems to deliver in the final seconds, they’ll usually say the same thing: Options.
“There’s nothing magical about that action,” said Brett Ballard, a former Jayhawks player who worked on the KU staff before taking an assistant coaching job under Danny Manning at Tulsa. “I think it’s good action, but that dribble handoff kind of catches people off guard a little bit, and then if you don’t switch it, you can get hung up on that screen. And that allows that shooter to get free.”
In the final seconds against Iowa State, Naadir Tharpe pushed the ball down the floor, flipping the ball to Elijah Johnson, who used a ball screen from Jeff Withey. On the other side of the court, Travis Releford was carefully setting up to spring Ben McLemore on a fade screen.
In the Memphis game, of course, you might remember that the play never made it to this point. Chalmers took the handoff from Sherron Collins, unspooling a high, arcing shot over the outstretched arms of Derrick Rose.
Last year thought, the Jayhawks were looking for McLemore, who was just a little bit rushed. The shot came out of his hand quickly — a little too strong — before banking in with one second left.
The Jayhawks would hold on, winning 97-89 in overtime. You know, sometimes you need a little luck to go with all those options.
“When it left my hand,” McLemore would say. “I actually kind of called bank.”
On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Iowa State’s first return to Allen Fieldhouse since that night, the Jayhawks took a little time to reflect on McLemore’s game-tying shot.
“I knew it had a chance, because it was plenty hard enough,” Self said. “There was not way it was going to be short.”
“I didn’t know if we were going to come back and win,” forward Landen Lucas said. “And then when he hit that shot, I knew we were going to win in overtime. There was too much momentum. That was a big-time shot.”
“That’s Ben McLemore,” Naadir Tharpe said.
The “Chop” play is an end-game set that Self installed during the 2006-07 season, when the Jayhawks were having trouble finding a reliable option at the end of games. On one of the first days that Kansas worked on the play at practice, the story goes like this: The Jayhawks must have run through it 10 times, but Self wanted to run it more. So they ran it another 10 times. Over and over, they kept running it. Maybe 30 times.
A few months later, in the Big 12 tournament championship game, this happened:
“When you hear ‘Chop,’” former KU guard Conner Teahan said, “I just right away start to picture Mario, the ball releasing from his hands, with him knocking it down.”
Later on Tuesday night, a few hours after Self was done thinking about McLemore’s shot, I turned on the television and found myself watching the final seconds of the Creighton-St. John’s game.
The score was tied 60-60 in the final seconds, and the play looked eerily familiar. A point guard racing down the court. A dribble handoff. A ball screen. And Creighton’s Jahenns Manigat setting a quick fade screen for Doug McDermott.
It was, quite clearly, the old Chop play. This time, McDermott didn’t need a bank.