Friday, June 22, 2018
Sports

Unheralded Kansas moves on

ST. LOUIS — In December, Kansas was scuffling along at 7-3 and simply making the NCAA Tournament would have been considered an achievement.

Look where the overachievers are headed now.

Kansas is on its way to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2008, thanks to a clutch performance by Tyshawn Taylor, some stifling defense and the Jayhawks' unshakable belief that they were better than anyone gave them credit for.

Taylor broke out of his scoring slump with 22 points and the Jayhawks handcuffed top-seeded North Carolina for the last 5½ minutes of an 80-67 victory over old coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels on Sunday in the Midwest Region final.

"This would have been a year, if we got to the second weekend (of the tournament), most Kansas fans would be happy. But that's not how those guys think," coach Bill Self said. "They think this is their year, and I'm certainly not going to tell them anything different."

The second-seeded Jayhawks (31-6) play Ohio State on Saturday in their first Final Four appearance since winning the 2008 national championship.

As the game ended, Taylor — under fire for poor shooting during the first three tournament games — ran to Kansas fans and raised both arms. Travis Releford tossed his sweatbands into the crowd.

All the Jayhawks starters scored in double figures. Thomas Robinson added 18 points and nine rebounds, and Elijah Johnson kept up his blistering pace with 10 points, including a 3 with 3:07 left that sparked Kansas' game-ending 12-0 run. Jeff Withey made two monster blocks to deny the Tar Heels during the run, one that set up a big three-point play by Taylor.

Taylor came up with the rebound after Withey swatted away a shot by John Henson, the former Sickles High standout, and streaked downcourt for a layup, getting fouled by Stilman White. To a roar from Kansas fans, Taylor butted his head into Robinson's chest then made the free throw to give Kansas a 74-67 lead with 1:59 left.

Withey blocked White's shot, and UNC (32-6) never threatened again. "There's no way to put into words the way we feel," Williams said. "It's the NCAA Tournament. One team wins and one team loses, and that's what we have to understand."

It was the fifth Kansas-UNC matchup in the tournament with the winner of the previous four going on to win the national title. Kansas is 4-0 vs. No. 1 seeds in region finals, matching Duke for the most such wins, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

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