SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A few days ago, Kansas coach Bill Self dropped to his knees after a win that seemed like it would never come, more relieved than elated.
His reaction was just a bit different Saturday night as his Jayhawks opened up a surprisingly large lead on the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, withstood a rally and pulled away for an impressive 84-66 win before an announced crowd of 43,718 at the Alamodome.
The Jayhawks (36-3), who survived a last-second shot last weekend to beat underdog Davidson, are in the NCAA Tournament finale for the eighth time in their history and will look for their third title (1952 and 1988) when they meet Memphis on Monday night.
"I felt great. I still do," said Self, who was all smiles. "That was an unbelievable performance. It wasn't just the starting five; it was eight guys who played at a very, very high level for the first 15 minutes of the game. That was a pleasure for me to watch."
His team went on a 25-2 run over a 6:47 span to take a commanding 40-12 lead.
That's no misprint. The Jayhawks were up 28 on UNC (36-3).
North Carolina. The NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed. The team that had won 15 straight. The team that had won each of its previous four NCAA games by double digits and by an average of 25.3 points. The team led by the consensus national player of the year, junior forward Tyler Hansbrough.
"That's as good as I've seem from us," Self said of the opening 15 minutes, adding that it had nothing to do with going against a former Kansas coach, UNC's Roy Williams.
That didn't mean mind-set wasn't important in the first Final Four involving all No. 1 seeds. The Jayhawks looked more at ease against the Tar Heels than they did against Davidson in the Midwest Region final in Detroit.
"The pressure was off of us big time," said junior star guard Brandon Rush, who finished with a game-high 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting. "That Davidson game, we were a little uptight. We just didn't play our type of game. But tonight, we ran up and down the floor with North Carolina. We just played our type of game."
"That is the first time this North Carolina team panicked," UNC junior guard Marcus Ginyard said.
But as lively as Kansas looked in the first half, it seemed just as tentative in the second. That allowed UNC to gain momentum, get as close as 54-50 and still be within 64-59, with 5:40 left after a Hansbrough basket.
"We were definitely still confident," Rush said. "I knew somebody was going to step up and make a play."
Sophomore guard Sherron Collins did just that with a 3-pointer. Rush then hit a driving layup, and senior forward Darnell Jackson followed with a dunk and a layup, and the lead was back up to 73-61.
"We've been playing so hard as a team and together and not playing selfish," said Jackson, "and now we have an opportunity to make history at Kansas."
Brian Landman can be reached