Svi Mykhailiuk, who had missed 10 of 15 shots, accepted a pass from Devonté Graham in the corner in front of Kansas’ basketball bench, and calmly, confidently swished a game-winning three-pointer against Nebraska on Saturday night at sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I was just praying it would go in,” Mykhailiuk, KU’s senior guard from Ukraine, said with a smile while speaking with reporters after his shot with 21 seconds left gave the Jayhawks a 73-72 victory over the Cornhuskers.
Mykhailiuk, who was 1 of 6 from three at the time of the shot that erased a two-point deficit, said “it felt good” when it left his hands.
“My teammates told me, ‘Believe in yourself. We know you’ll make it,’ ” said Mykhailiuk. He finished with 14 points in 36 minutes, helping KU (8-2) snap a two-game losing streak.
Mykhailiuk’s bucket put a smile on the face of coach Bill Self, who said: “Svi is a senior and poised and all those things. That’s what he’s supposed to do. It was great to see it.
“Svi has been struggling, not himself for about two weeks now. You don’t have to make shots to play well, but in this situation he had to make a shot in order for us to win. He did that.”
Mykhailiuk’s big bucket was the game winner only because of some defensive heroics on the final possession for Nebraska (7-5).
Anton Gill missed a shot in the lane with about 7 seconds left. James Palmer — who had 14 points and eight rebounds — grabbed the rebound and had his stickback blocked by Udoka Azubuike with about 5 ticks left on the clock. Azubuike, who scored a career-high 26 points with 10 rebounds and just the one block, chased the ball in the corner and instead of waiting to get fouled, fired the ball downcourt.
The clock ran out and KU had the victory.
“I had no choice but to block it,” Azubuike said. “As soon as I blocked it, I had to go get it. I chased the ball and threw it away.”
Point guard Graham, who scored 18 points with eight assists in 38 minutes, said Azubuike’s block, “was a great block. I was right beside him. It was a game-winning block.”
Self said Azubuike “has not played to his size at all of late. He did today.”
Graham also commented on his buddy Mykhailiuk’s huge three, which preceded Nebraska’s late flurry of shots.
“We always say, ‘Shooters, shoot,’ ” Graham said. “I’ve been around him a long time. I’ve seen him hit a lot of shots. I could see that one going in.
In rebounding from losses to Pac-12 teams Washington and Arizona State, the Jayhawks stretched their winning streak over Nebraska to 19 games, including eight in a row in Lincoln.
The Jayhawks overcame a Nebraska team that was fired up at the start when new football coach Scott Frost was introduced to the crowd right before the introduction of the Huskers’ starting lineup.
KU, which led 36-33 at halftime, used a 9-2 run to bust a 57-57 tie and give the Jayhawks a 66-59 advantage at the 5:41 mark. Mykhailiuk opened with a three, followed by a bucket from Mitch Lightfoot off a feed from Graham. Azubuike and Mykhailiuk completed the run with buckets.
Nebraska, however, rallied and led 72-70 with 42.1 seconds left, setting the stage for Mykhailiuk’s big three.
The Jayhawks led 36-33 at halftime thanks to a combined 25 points from Azubuike and Graham. Azubuike hit 7 of 10 shots and grabbed four rebounds, while picking up two fouls in 11 minutes. Graham hit 4 of 7 shots and was 3 of 4 from three, good for 11 points with one assist and three turnovers in 18 minutes.
Lagerald Vick had five points, Lightfoot scored four and Mykhailiuk added two on 1-of-5 shooting in the half.
Nebraska was led by Thomas Allen’s 10 points coming off the bench in the first half. The Huskers hit 46.7 percent of their shots in the first half, misfiring on nine of 12 threes. KU hit 43.8 percent, cashing 4 of 9 threes.
For the game, KU hit 44.5 percent of its shots and was 7 of 22 on three-pointers and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. NU hit 49.2 percent of its shots, was 8 of 22 from three and 6 of 8 from the line
KU will next meet Omaha at 6 p.m. Monday at Allen Fieldhouse. After that, it’s on to Sacramento, Calif., for a game against Stanford at 10 p.m. on Thursday. Omaha, which is 2-10, has a home game Sunday against Cornell.