LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Elijah Johnson scored 23 points and No. 14 Kansas nearly blew all of a 20-point lead before pulling away for a 72-56 win over UCLA in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday night.
Thomas Robinson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Tyshawn Taylor added 13 points and six assists and Kansas reached Wednesday night’s championship game against No. 6 Duke, undefeated in the Maui Invitational while winning four titles.
Kansas (3-1) looked as though it was going to run away from the Bruins at the start, going up 12 points in the first 6 minutes and building from there.
The Jayhawks fizzled with a flurry of turnovers and defensive breakdowns to let UCLA back in it, then pulled away over the final 5 minutes for a harder-than-expected victory.
UCLA (1-3) got off to a brutal start and rallied to trim a 20-point lead down to five before running out of steam.
Tyler Lamb had 15 points and Jerime Anderson added 14 for the Bruins.
The young Jayhawks were humbled a bit in a loss to No. 2 Kentucky at Madison Square Garden a week ago, but responded with a poised-down-the-stretch win over scrappy Georgetown to open the Maui Invitational.
Kansas got off to a shaky start against the Hoyas, made a run to get the lead, then let Georgetown claw its way back. The Jayhawks grinded out the 67-63 win behind key plays down the stretch from Travis Releford, who hit two free throws with 15 seconds left and scrambled to dig out a loose ball after the Hoyas missed a shot.
Robinson was the catalyst with 20 points, 12 rebounds and what Georgetown coach John Thompson III said felt like 24 dunks — just the kind of aggression Jayhawks coach Bill Self has been looking for from his dynamic big man.
Robinson wasn’t much of a factor against UCLA early, so Kansas spread it around.
Swinging the ball around in halfcourt sets and getting out on the break, the Jayhawks opened the game with a 14-2 run and kept pushing. Kansas hit 12 of 24 shots in the half — 5 of 9 from 3-point range — had 10 assists and got 13 points from Johnson to lead 43-26.
The Jayhawks still looked as though they were going to run away with it to start the second half, then went into a funk.
Unable to stop the Bruins or hold onto the ball, Kansas went nearly 6½ minutes without a field goal as UCLA trimmed a 20-point lead down to five with 8 minutes left.
The Jayhawks finally put a stop to UCLA’s momentum with a couple of baskets by Robinson, then pulled away behind their defense.
UCLA opened a season of expectations in disappointing fashion, losing by double digits to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. The Bruins avoided a potential meltdown in the Maui opener, turning a two-point halftime lead over Division II Chaminade into a blowout.
UCLA blew the game open with a 29-3 run and turned away any thought of a comeback by blocking 12 of the Silverswords’ shots in the 92-60 victory.
But Kansas isn’t anything like Chaminade, as the Bruins learned in a hurry.
Unable to find any room against the Jayhawks’ scrambling defense, UCLA missed its first six shots, had five turnovers and just two free throws until Reeves Nelson scored on a 3-pointer at the 13:36 mark.
The best the Bruins could do after that was get within six points and Kansas didn’t let that last, storming the Bruins a second time to push the lead to 19 before the half was over.
Then something clicked for UCLA.
Forcing turnovers and stroking 3-pointers, the Bruins went on a 12-0 run midway through the second half and kept dropping shots to pull within 57-52.
That turned out to be it for UCLA, which will face No. 15 Michigan in the third-place game.
T. Wear 1-7 2-2 4, Smith 0-1 1-4 1, Lamb 4-6 4-4 15, Anderson 5-9 2-2 14, L. Jones 1-6 6-6 8, Stover 0-0 0-0 0, Powell 0-1 0-0 0, D. Wear 1-3 0-0 2, Nelson 4-11 1-3 12. Totals 16-44 16-21 56.
Robinson 7-11 1-1 15, Withey 1-3 4-4 6, Taylor 4-10 4-4 13, Johnson 8-13 3-4 23, Releford 3-8 0-0 8, Tharpe 0-1 0-0 0, Teahan 0-0 4-6 4, Wesley 0-0 1-2 1, Young 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 24-47 17-22 72.
Halftime — Kansas 43-26. 3-Point goals — UCLA 8-14 (Nelson 3-4, Lamb 3-4, Anderson 2-3, Powell 0-1, L. Jones 0-1, T. Wear 0-1), Kansas 7-16 (Johnson 4-8, Releford 2-3, Taylor 1-3, Tharpe 0-1, Robinson 0-1). Fouled out — Smith. Rebounds — UCLA 21 (Nelson 5), Kansas 34 (Robinson 10). Assists — UCLA 8 (Anderson 4), Kansas 15 (Taylor 6). Total fouls — UCLA 20, Kansas 18. A — 2,400.