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Graham leads No. 5 Kansas past Santa Barbara 69-59

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Devonte’ Graham came off the bench Friday night to provide fifth-ranked Kansas with a much-needed spark, providing the scuffling Jayhawks with some scoring and toughness.

Maybe a bit too much toughness.

On one play in the first half of their 69-59 victory over UC-Santa Barbara, the freshman guard was whistled for a technical foul after he walloped a defender with an elbow. Graham walked sheepishly back to the bench, where Kansas coach Bill Self proceeded to – ah, instruct him.

”He wasn’t happy,” Graham said with a grin. ”He was mad.”

Truth of the matter? There wasn’t much for Self to be happy about Friday night.

Graham finished with 14 points, Perry Ellis had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Frank Mason III finished with 12 points. But the Jayhawks also committed 16 turnovers, struggled with their shooting and didn’t put away the pesky Gauchos until a big second-half run.

The defending Big 12 champions had better solve their ills in a hurry. They have a date with top-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.

”We need to develop an identity,” Self said. ”We’re going to need to win games muddy.”

Alan Williams led Santa Barbara with 22 points and 13 rebounds, frustrating the Jayhawks with some veteran guile. The Big West’s top returning scorer also had four blocked shots.

”We just didn’t make enough shots,” he said. ”We’re a better shooting team than that.”

The Jayhawks won their 42nd straight season opener at Allen Fieldhouse, but it certainly wasn’t easy. A team that lost freshmen sensations Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the NBA draft had to rely on a bevy of freshmen, and it showed throughout the first half.

Kansas went 6 minutes without a field goal at one point, turning the ball over four times in a span of six possessions. The Gauchos only had one field goal in a span of nearly 10 minutes, though, and they struggled on the boards on both ends of the floor.

Still, Santa Barbara had forged a 15-14 lead with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the half before Graham went on his scoring binge. The diminutive freshman scored eight of the next 11 points for Kansas, and then added a put back of his own miss before the buzzer for a 31-23 lead.

”Man, he came in and stepped up,” Ellis said. ”That’s what we needed from our freshmen.”

The Gauchos, picked to contend for the Big West title, stubbornly refused to go away. They made one more push early in the second half, closing within 44-41 on Zalmico Harmon’s bucket.

Cliff Alexander answered with two foul shots at the other end, and that kicked off a 14-4 surge that helped to put the game away. Alexander had the highlight of the run, a thunderous dunk off a feed from fellow freshman Svi Mykhailiuk that gave the Jayhawks a 54-43 lead.

Santa Barbara never seriously threatened again.

”We played a very good team,” Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said. ”I thought our guys found a way to score and stay in the game, and that’s the best you can say when you don’t shoot the ball very well.”

FOUL TROUBLE

Both teams heard plenty of whistles. Graham and Mason picked up two early on for Kansas, though the Jayhawks managed their foul trouble well in the second half. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara put them in the bonus with 11:32 left in the game. The Gauchos’ John Green fouled out.

TIP-INS

Kansas: Sophomore forward Brannen Greene got his first career start. He was 1 for 3 from the field and finished with three points, two rebounds and one assist.

Santa Barbara: Mitch Brewe spent the night hearing ”Airball!” from the Kansas students. The junior forward fired up two of them in the game.

UP NEXT

Kansas takes a big step up in competition for the second straight year when it takes on the Wildcats. Last year, the Jayhawks knocked off Duke in Chicago in their second game.

Santa Barbara visits Florida-Gulf Coast on Monday night. The two will play again in January.

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