Kansas forward Thomas Robinson has even more in common with Blake Griffin now. Not everything, though.
Robinson, who played through personal tragedy as a sophomore reserve, capped his junior season by being a unanimous selection to The Associated Press' All-America team Monday, a day after leading the Jayhawks to the Final Four.
The 6-foot-10 Robinson averaged 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds this season and he was a first-team pick by all 65 members of the national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25.
The last unanimous pick was Griffin in 2009.
"It's a blessing to be named even in the same category as Blake Griffin," Robinson said. "For that to happen, I'm glad all the hard work is paying off."
Robinson did find some similarities between them besides being Big 12 Player of the Year.
"That man jumps out the gym. He looks like a superhero when he takes off," Robinson said. "But we both try to be aggressive. He knows what he does well. I feel the same way. I know what I do well."
Joining Robinson on the first team were Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, the first repeat All-America in three years, freshman Anthony Davis of Kentucky, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Doug McDermott of Creighton.
Davis received 63 first-team votes while Green, the lone senior on the team, got 53. Sullinger had 30, one more than McDermott. The voting was done before the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger -- all playing in this weekend's Final Four -- are on the John R. Wooden Award All-American Team, which was announced Monday.
Joining them are Isaiah Cannan of Murray State,Jae Crowder of Marquette, Marcus Denmon of Missouri, Draymond Green of Michigan State, Kevin Jones of West Virginia, Doug McDermott of Creighton and Tyler Zeller of North Carolina.
VOTE for TRob Naismith POY online
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Regional MVP: Thomas Robinson, Kansas. The Jayhawks used an extremely balanced effort to get to New Orleans, but Robinson was the most consistent. He racked up three double-doubles, had came one rebound away from getting a fourth. In the four games, Robinson averaged 15.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. He wasn't as efficient from the field as he was during the regular season, but his strength and determination helped will Kansas through some of the struggles.
• Thomas Robinson, Kansas
• Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
• Jeff Withey, Kansas
• Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
• Walter Offutt, Ohio
CBS Midwest Regional Wrapup
Sunday's title game drew 24,107 spectators, meaning that nearly 50,000 fans went through the Dome turnstiles for the three games. Kansas brought a big crowd from Lawrence for the championship game.
"We had a lot of love here," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "We have a good fan base and they turned out for us."
Congrats to @CoachBillSelf &@KUAthletics for a great win yesterday - Good Luck at the Final Four
Great win for my youngins man.... Final 4 bound
Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops
Difference for Kansas was on the backboards (+9) and the free throw line (+9 FTM). In other words, they were tougher.
Josh Selby @joshselby2
Otis Livingston @OLivingston24
Not bad for a rebuilding year! Let's get 2 more...#RockChalkJayhawk
Braeden Anderson @kingbraeden
Really proud of all jayhawk homies #KUalltheway
Brannen Greene @b_greene14
Final Four Baby!!! It's expected though...WE ARE KANSAS!
Tyrel Reed @treed14
Wow what a game! #RCJH
Stewart Mandel @slmandel
Kansas. Kentucky. Ohio State. Louisville. Even at 70K seats, the Superdome is going to be a tough ticket next weekend.
Justin McCay @JMcCay19
Kansas jayhawks to the final four yet again. Big time players make big time plays.
Conner Frankamp @CFrankamp_23
Russell Robinson @Next718star
Word is in! A Milz blowing up my phone #finalfour !!!!! Yeaaaaaa proud moment!!!! Rock Chalk!
@Keefmorris got his career high today and @Trobinson0 going to the final 4 !!! Today is a good day!!!! #teamfoe
Brandon Rush @ KCsFinest4
Bet mass street is going crazy right now
Paul Pierce @ paulpierce34
Kansas Jayhawks please stand up and salute
Darnell Jackson @ DBlock_Official
RocccckChalllllk Jaaaaay-Hawwwwwk, Kaaaaaaaaaaay Uuuuuuuuuuuu!!! Congrats to the # kubball team for making the Final Four.
Coach Charlie Weis @ CoachWeisKansas
Great job across the board. On to New Orleans! Congrats! And we get to beat the Buckeyes again!
Darrell Arthur @ darthur00I
just got tha best birthday present!!! Thanks to the KU boys!!! We put them haters on hush!!! Hopefully I can Get another win2nite
Keef Morris @ Keefmorris
Proudof my lil bros man......
Jason Whitlock @ WhitlockJason
8 straight conference titles. He gets it done in the regular season and he's turned into a great tournament coach. # billself
Sam Mellinger @ mellinger
Some of that Roy stink on 'em. RT @ WhitlockJason UNC looks soft. Giving up too many offensive rebounds.
olivia wilde @ oliviawilde
Congrats Kansas! Alas... I failed to locate the one bar in London playing the game. Sucks because I bet that dude's basement was super nice.
Paul Pierce @paulpierce34
Can I get a Rock Chalk on three 1 2 3 !!
tyshawn taylor @ _tee_y
can't even explain how proud I am of my team ... we came along way an we still pushing ... S/o to everybody who supports us ; # SALUTE ;;
Travis Releford @ T_2releFOUR
"She" get her own seat on the bus ride back. http://pic.twitter.com/k2N58NK7
Ben McLemore @Humb1e_Hungry23
I never experience anything like that in my life
Merv Lindsay @MervDiggity22
Mario Little @riochitown23
Hell yeah! #proud2BeAJayhawk
Russell Robinson @Next718star
“@NickBahe: Congrats to the best coach in the nation, Bill Self! He has been simply magnificent this season. Final 4! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
Champions Classic @championclassic
Kentucky looks unstoppable. Kansas fights to the end and knows how to win. Think we'll c Kentucky v. Kansas championship game?
Travis Releford @T_2releFOUR
Just wanna thank all the fans for coming out. Y'all were great. Made it feel like we were playing a home game. But we are not done.#NOLA
What time is it? Final Four time baby!!! ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!!!”
I know I know sun sun Harrison Barnes was scared of them boys RT@bayfrazier: @joshselby2 u know how I feel about UNC & Kansas lol
Cole Aldrich @ colea45
Great win tonight. Along with my KU boys going to the final four!
keith langford @ keith_langford
@ justiniwesley WE going to the BIG EASY BABY BRO!!!! Had to stay up and watch. So proud of you guys!!! # FINAL4 tweet... Love you bro!!!!
mario chalmers @ mchalmers15
Congrats to my jayhawks for makin the final 4. Let's make it happen like we did in 08'. Rock chalk jayhawks baby
Jay Bilas @ JayBilas
Most Disappointing Teams in NCAA: Missouri, Duke, Michigan. None competed well, and got beat by teams they should have beaten.
Brady Morningstar @bmstar12
big ups!!!! @Trobinson0 @_tee_y
Maui Invitational @EASportsMauiInv
Congrats to KU_Hoops on making the Final Four!
Fran Fraschilla @ franfraschilla
Just heard there's 8-9 thousand waiting at Allen Field for Jayhawks' return from Saint Louis. That's cool.
Fran Fraschilla @franfraschilla
Not many coaches would go with junk defense with 8 minutes to go in a Regional Final. Bill Self told me KU works on it 5 min twice a week.
I-70 West w/ @Jizzle_11 bumpin @AmIshoBaraka celebrating @KU_Hoops big win. KU fans stopping in Columbia MO on purpose LOL
KC RUN GMC @KCRunGMC
Congrats to Travis and Conner on their way to the final four! Great to see the fellas enjoying the journey.
tyshawn taylor @_tee_y
S/o to everybody who doubted myself and this team ..y'all a huge reason for our success ...so y'all keep that hate coming ;;
Baylor Basketball @BaylorMBB
Congrats to @KU_Hoops on advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans. #GoBig12
Ken Pomeroy @kenpomeroy
For those wondering, up to the minute chances: UK 42%, OSU 34%, KU 17%, UL 7%.
NCAA March Madness @marchmadness
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Congrats, #KUbball and welcome to the 2012 #FinalFour!
Jay Bilas @JayBilas
Each Final 4 team was rated in Top 5 in offensive (UK) or defensive (UL, OSU, KU) efficiency in http://KenPom.com ratings. #rpiajoke
@_tee_y yall did yall thing today! Get that championship @Trobinson0
Chris Walker @cwalkertime23
T rob doing his thing! !!
Brannen Greene @b_greene14
Final Four Baby!!! It's expected though...WE ARE KANSAS!
Landen A. Lucas @LandenLucas33
FINAL 4!!! #KU http://instagr.am/p/InR5zXiKQv/
KU AD Photos
KC Star Photos
St Louis PD Photos
VIDEO: Wild sequence near end of game, AND ONE screams Tyshawn Taylor!
VIDEO CBS Game Highlights
VIDEO: Kansas postgame press conference (fixed link!)
VIDEO: UNC postgame press conference
VIDEO: Fans waiting at AFH for team return from St Louis
VIDEO: JayhawkSlant.com The Team returns to Allen Fieldhouse
VIDEO: The Kansas Jayhawks enter AFH as Midwest Regional Champs!
VIDEO: Mass St. reacts to the KU victory!
KCTV5 Video: KU highlights, fans in St Louis
KU AD: Box score, recap, notes, more
KU AD Video: Locker room interviews, net cutting, sweet homecoming
Sirius XM Sports Audio: Conner Teahan postgame
As Kansas players danced around the locker room with pieces of the Edward Jones Dome net pinned behind their ears, one of the greatest coaches in basketball history was stuck in traffic.
Hall of Famer Larry Brown -- the only man to win an NCAA title and an NBA championship -- hustled up the steps and out of the arena after the Jayhawks advanced to the Final Four by defeating North Carolina 80-67 Sunday.
As the cars backed up on Interstate 70, Brown had time to reflect on what he'd just seen from his former team -- and his former pupil.
When talking about Bill Self, Brown almost seemed in awe.
"I can't imagine how he's done it," said Brown, who hired Self as a graduate assistant at KU back in 1985. "The eight straight Big 12 titles, getting this team to the Final Four, I just can't imagine ..."
"Our game has a lot of great coaches," he said. "But right now I can't think of many who are better than Bill."
That's because there aren't any.
All throughout Sunday's 13-point victory over the top-seeded Tar Heels, and even for a few hours after it, I kept asking myself the same question: Who in college basketball, right now, is better than Bill Self?
Not "Who has the best resume?" Self is more than 10 years younger than legends such as Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. So comparing his Final Four count to theirs is unfair.
Instead, I tried to think of the No. 1 candidate I would target if I was an athletic director who had been given millions of dollars to start a basketball program from scratch. If I could have my pick of any coach in America, who would I choose?
To me, the answer is obvious.
"There's no one I'd rather play for," Kansas guard Elijah Johnson said. "He's the best coach in the country."
Or at least he has been since replacing Roy Williams at Kansas in 2003-04.
Since that time, no one has been more on top of their profession than Self, who has gone 268-52 in his nine seasons at Kansas. No coach in America has won more games during that span except for Kentucky's John Calipari (281-52). But 38 of those wins were vacated because of NCAA rules violations, so officially, Self is the leader.
Even more impressive is that Self's KU teams have won eight straight Big 12 titles, the longest streak of consecutive league crowns by a major-conference team since UCLA won 13 in a row from 1967-79.
"Year after year, we lose guys and people wonder if we're going to be down," fifth-year senior Conner Teahan said. "Yet, year after year, he finds a way to get it done. He just instills so much confidence in us. He makes us believe we're capable of doing anything."
..."A lot of people didn't think we'd be in this situation," point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "No one knew how good we could be."
Indeed, there's no question that Self has done the best coaching job of his career this season.
He has a fourth-year starter in Taylor and one of college basketball's top post players in Thomas Robinson, who has blossomed into a Wooden Award candidate after averaging just 14 minutes off the bench last season. Otherwise, though, Kansas entered the season with a roster full of obscure players who had played minimal roles. Starters Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford (all juniors) struggled to get on the court last season.
In five months, Self has turned them into stars.
"Guys get better when they come here," Self said. "Guys go from playing 7 minutes a game to being a national player of the year candidate. You've got a guy [in Taylor] who was as criticized a player as there's been at KU since I've been here, and now people are saying he may be the best point guard to play here in a long time.
"It's amazing to me how much these guys have gotten better. I take pride in that."
...Six McDonald's All-Americans suited up for North Carolina on Sunday.
"It's always more fun to do something," Self said, "when no one thinks you can do it."
..."Bill is tough on his kids," Brown said, "but they know he cares about them. He gets them to respect the game and play it the right way. They defend and rebound and share the ball. It's incredible to watch. I love Bill.
"I love him."
ESPN Jason KIng
Video interview Jason King w/Coach Self
Kansas and North Carolina played a beautiful half on basketball on Sunday night in St. Louis. They ran up and down and traded shot for shot. Thomas Robinson showed his strength, Harrison Barnes showed his feathery touch, Tyler Zeller would have made George Mikan proud and Tyshawn Taylor found his shot again.
CBSSports.com’s Brett McMurphy told me a story at halftime about the 1988 championship game when Kansas and Oklahoma also played a beautiful half of basketball much like the one we had just witnessed.
All week before that game Larry Brown told his players that they couldn’t run with Oklahoma. They could not win that way. They needed to slow the game down and make them play KU’s style.
As the Jayhawks huddled together in the tunnel before they took the court, Milt Newton, the player who might have been the most athletic guy on the court that night, told his teammates: “F#*% that, let’s run with these guys.”
And much like the Jayhawks ran with the Heels on Sunday, playing to a 47-all tie, the ’88 Jayhawks ran with the top-ranked Sooners and played to a 50-all tie.
At halftime, Brown told his team, “OK, you proved you can run with them. Now we play our game.”
That’s exactly what Kansas did that April 4, 1988 night. They outscored OU 33-29 in the second half, and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tourney history. KU’s 80-67 win on Sunday would not quite rank with that upset, but the odds that this team would be headed to the Final Four was just as an unlikely story.
...On Sunday night, Larry Brown was behind the bench where Danny Manning sat, and somewhere one of the Miracles, Milt Newton, watched on TV.
Could the Jayhawks run with the Heels? Newton probably believed they could. And at halftime, Brown probably thought, “OK, it’s time to play Coach Self’s way.”
The Jayhawks did, and now their season continues.
“We’ve still got practice,” Johnson said. “We’ve got practice tomorrow. I can’t wait to go to practice tomorrow. I can’t wait. We’re going to New Orleans, man.”
Self’s Jayhawks beat their old coach’s North Carolina team 80-67 on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four — KU’s 14th, and second with the coach who has kept the program at an absurdly high level while remaking it under his hard-cuss attitude.
The running Jayhawks are now the flexing Jayhawks, the pretty program now the one that likes nothing more than winning with muscle.
None of Self’s eight other teams had embraced that more than this one, symbolized most by Thomas Robinson’s rise from 2.5 points per game as a freshman to a possible national player of the year as a junior, an inspiring journey through heartbreaking tragedy in between.
Maybe now you understand why Self, the locker room doors enclosing that perfect mix of relief and joy, told his guys he’s never enjoyed coaching a team more than this one. He told them how proud he was, how far they’ve come, this team that exceeded his expectations more than any he’s ever had.
And then he told them the line that best embodies everything he believes and everything he’s turned KU basketball into.
We’ll get to that in a minute.
...“These guys,” Self said, “nothing fazes them. No matter what the situation is, they just think they they’re going to figure it out.”
...That’s part of the story today. Part of the joy. This is a blueblood basketball power able to celebrate like a midmajor, a team with modest preseason expectations wearing the road blues while beating a roster full of pros who know their season is a disappointment without making the Final Four.
So, yeah, it felt especially good for the Jayhawks to hear about the guys playing for the other powerhouse muttering things like “so physical” and “so tough” when describing an opponent.
Choosing to coach or play at Kansas usually means choosing to never be able to overachieve expectations. This is that rare exception, a team that Self says has played “closer to its ceiling” than any he’s had in Lawrence. That its crowning achievement came at the expense of the very personification of old March letdowns makes it at least a little sweeter.
Which brings us back to what Self said.
The Jayhawks just got back to their locker room and nobody knows quite how to act. Niko Roberts is nudging Jordan Juenemann and saying, over and over and over, “We’re going to the Final Four, man!”
This is the feeling they came to Kansas for, and it probably feels even better after hearing words from their coach that they’ll tell in stories the rest of their lives.
Self is looking them in the eyes and saying he’s never been more proud of a team. He tells them how much fun he’s had, that he hopes they feel the same way. He talks a little about how good North Carolina’s players are, how eight of them are McDonald’s All-Americans.
And then come the words that best define everything Self believes about basketball — and so much of what he’s built at Kansas.
The players scream when he’s finished.
“The guys in this locker room,” he says, “are better than the guys in their locker room.”
KC Star Mellinger
As Bill Self settled into a golf cart at the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday afternoon to be driven off for a CBS interview, he drolly said, “Time to answer more questions about Roy Williams.”
Williams has been the topic that won’t die for Self. He’d just gotten several Roy questions from reporters during his general interview session the day before his Kansas Jayhawks played Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels in the Midwest Regional final. He has been hearing them for nine years, ever since he succeeded Williams as coach at Kansas. It’s a tired topic that should have been put to rest in 2008, when Self handed Williams an emphatic defeat in the Final Four, but it was resurrected here.
Today, it’s time to reverse the Q&A. Time for Williams to answer questions about Self. Specifically, it’s time for Williams to talk about being checkmated by Self on Sunday with the Final Four on the line.
Self’s lockdown of the Tar Heels was so crafty that Ol’ Roy literally had no idea what hit him. It was a triangle-and-two defense, playing man-to-man on Carolina shooters Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock and zoning point guard Stilman White and big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson. The junk defense shut down the Heels’ prolific offense as Kansas pulled away in the final eight minutes to win 80-67. Carolina scored just three points in the final 8:34.
I asked Williams what impact the triangle-and-two had on his team. His answer was stunning.
“I know they did for one possession, and they may have for another possession,” Williams said. “I’m not sure about that.”
Williams clearly was unsure because from press row it looked like the Jayhawks played the triangle-and-two for nearly half of the final 20 minutes. The Jayhawks confirmed that they played the combo defense for the final eight or nine minutes.
“It put their guys who are not used to scoring the ball in position to score,” Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “It confused them a little bit. … We just switched our defense up a little bit, and it kind of took them out of what they wanted to run.”
In the final 8½ minutes, Carolina didn’t make a single field goal off its set offense. There was a putback by Zeller and a free throw by Barnes, and that was it. The Heels were shut out for the final 3:57.
...“I think this team’s probably played as close to its ceiling as any team I’ve had,” Self said. “… I don’t think you can give 110 percent. I think all you can give is 100. And I think this team has given as close to 100 as any team that I’ve probably ever coached.
“I will say this: I don’t know if I ever enjoyed coaching a team more than this one. I love them. We fight, it’s combative sometimes, all of those things. But I love coaching these guys. … It is just remarkable to me to see them cutting down nets out here because this would not be the year that anybody would have thought we would do it. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Here’s another cool feeling: Bill Self shouldn’t ever have to hear about Roy Williams again. Unless he’s being asked about having Ol’ Roy’s number.
Yahoo Pat Forde
Kansas is now 4-0 versus No. 1 seeds in the regional finals, having also beaten Arkansas in 1991, Indiana in 1993 and Arizona in 2003. That matches Duke for the most such wins by any school, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"What Bill Self has done speaks for itself," Big 12 acting commissioner Chuck Neinas said. "Bill Self is in no one's shadow. Well, unless, it's Phog Allen."
The Jayhawks pulled away from North Carolina 80-67 on Sunday. Kansas' defense stifled North Carolina as the Tar Heels were limited to 22.6 percent shooting in the second half, the lowest percentage in a half for the storied program ever in an NCAA tournament game.
The victory gave the 49-year-old Self a second Final Four to go along with eight consecutive Big 12 titles, the 2008 national championship and, oh yeah, a 2-0 record against Williams in the NCAA tournament at KU.
While the Jayhawks were celebrating on the court, Cindy Self, Bill's wife, stood four rows behind Kansas' bench, tears streaming down her face.
"In November," Cindy said, "wow, who would have thought this?"
Not many people. Before the season, Bill admitted to Cindy the months ahead coaching the Jayhawks were "going to be a lot of work."
The Jayhawks had only one returning starter off last year's 35-win team and there were a lot more questions than answers about the upcoming season.
...Self's success at Kansas has been extraordinary and, quite frankly, taken for granted. He wins 84 percent of the time and the Jayhawks' APR has been a perfect 1,000 the past six seasons. There's no question he's had some hiccups in March, but his NCAA tournament record at Kansas is still an impressive 22-7, a 75.8 winning percentage.
Not bad for a guy who at 30 became a head coach for the first time at Oral Roberts -- where he recruited his first player while ordering lunch at a Subway restaurant. He had losing records his first two seasons at ORU, but since then he's only won fewer than 20 games twice in the past 15 seasons and has won at least 30 games the past three seasons and five of the past six years.
...After all of the Jayhawks had cut a strand from the net, it was Self's turn. He climbed the ladder to cut the final three strands.
Self then took the net in his hand and waved it to the Jayhawks' contingent inside Edward Jones Dome to his right and then to his left. He took one step and then jumped all the way down to the court from the third step onto the court.
Clinching the net in his hand Self beamed. There wasn't a shadow to be seen anywhere.
CBS (link includes postgame Sager VIDEO interview w/Coach Self and Tyshawn Taylor on the floor in St Louis)
The key to understanding this 2011-12 Kansas team is simple, once you wrap your brain around it. Kansas, you see, is not Kansas.
Kansas is Butler.
Makes no sense, right? But that's what Kansas is. That's how Kansas wins. That's why Kansas wins. Unlike every Kansas team I've ever laid eyes on, this Kansas team doesn't bludgeon you with talent. It has its share, don't get me wrong, starting with Thomas Robinson. He's a monster. He's a top 10 NBA draft pick.
But the rest of the roster? It's nice. Nice talent. Nice kids. Nice. Like Butler.
But when the game ends and the final scores are tallied, Kansas typically has more points than the other team. That has been the case 31 times in 37 games this season, most recently -- most importantly -- Sunday in the Midwest Regional final when the final score showed Kansas with more points than North Carolina, 80-67.
The game was a lot closer than that, but then, most Kansas games are close. The Jayhawks beat 15th-seeded Detroit in their first NCAA tournament game by 15, a game that was closer than that. They beat Purdue in the next round by three. They beat North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 by three. Purdue and N.C. State had shots at the buzzer to force overtime, too. Kansas wins games but doesn't make it easy, a bizarre criticism that has made its way to Kansas coach Bill Self.
I'm going to quote Self in a minute, but first you need to understand why. As Kansas was pulling away from North Carolina in the final two minutes on Sunday, I leaned over to colleague Brett McMurphy and told him what I would be writing, that Kansas is Butler. McMurphy smiled, said he had a quote from Self on that very topic. Turns out, at some point after the N.C. State game, Self told McMurphy that he's tired of hearing how Kansas isn't blowing anyone out.
"Butler won a lot of close games last year," Self said. "They made it all the way to the national championship game like that, and nobody had a problem with it."
Nor should anyone have a problem with this Kansas team. A problem? Shoot, Kansas folks should be in love with this team, because it has overachieved from Day One. The Jayhawks have overachieved by winning 31 games this season, overachieved by going 16-2 in the Big 12, overachieved by reaching the Final Four.
Kansas would have no business getting past Ohio State in the Final Four, but it could happen. Hell, it already did happen. Kansas defeated Ohio State 78-67 on Dec. 10, although Ohio State was playing without injured Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is healthy now, which means Kansas will have no business winning. But who would bet against the Jayhawks at this point in the season? It would have been like betting against Butler in either of the last two seasons -- Butler also had one top 10 draft pick, Gordon Hayward -- when the Bulldogs reached back-to-back national title games.
Kansas is this year's Butler: It knows how to win.
CBS Gregg Doyel
The Tar Heels said they had not seen a triangle-and-two defense all year, so Kansas coach Bill Self’s decision to switch to it in the second half made a big impact.
“I don’t know what they were playing, but they sagged the big man into the lane,’’ forward John Henson said. “And I think that really disoriented our defense. Me and [Tyler Zeller] couldn’t figure it out, and that’s why we’re here right now.”
Small forward Harrison Barnes said that what makes the triangle-and-two so difficult is that there is always “help” defense present. On one play, the sophomore said, he got Jayhawk Travis Releford to bite on a pump fake. But after he had taken one dribble, there was another defender there.
Barnes said the triangle-and-two was not on UNC’s scouting report.
Self said the Jayhawks played that defense the last eight or nine minutes of the game. During the final eight minutes, UNC scored only three points.
“Thomas Robinson is a fantastic player,” North Carolina center Tyler Zeller said. “Somebody that can drive the ball, shoot the ball, and he can score from inside. There’s a reason he’s up for (national) player of the year.”
Robinson’s frontline teammate Jeff Withey had his second big game in St. Louis with 15 points and three blocks, including two in the game’s final 3 minutes while Withey was playing with four fouls.
“Jeff was a load for us inside,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “A lot of times a guy with four fouls won’t guard you because he wants to stay in the game. Those were two big defensive plays.”
The reserve big men also pitched in. Kevin Young had eight rebounds, four of them on offense, and Justin Wesley, in his brief 2 minutes, tipped in a Robinson miss.
For the game, the Jayhawks outrebounded North Carolina 41-35. Two days earlier, the Tar Heels had pulled down 63 rebounds against Ohio.
“We did a good job,” Robinson said. “Definitely Jeff coming down there and blocking those shots. And I just tried to be aggressive tonight.”
“Coach Self said last night when going over the report that we wanted to throw the first punch,” Robinson said. “We wanted to make them feel us every play.”
Thomas Robinson beckoned for more noise just as he applied scissors to the net. Giddy Kansas fans were happy to oblige.
Elijah Johnson ran through the tunnel punching clenched fists in the air.
Tyshawn Taylor shouted, “Gonna get me some gumbo!”
The sights and sounds that punctuated second-seeded Kansas’ 80-67 conquest of top-seeded North Carolina for the Midwest Regional championship on Sunday could not have been envisioned when the Jayhawks opened practice in October.
Not with one returning starter and an incoming class cut short because of ineligible players.
And not with a team that took earlier than expected pratfalls in each of its last two NCAA Tournaments.
But there they were Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome, cutting nets and ordering gumbo for their Final Four trip to New Orleans and a national semifinal against Ohio State at 7:49 p.m. Saturday.
“I think this would have been a year that if we got to the second weekend, most Kansas faithful would have been happy,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who’s in the Final Four for the second time after winning the NCAA title in 2008. “But I don’t think those guys would have been satisfied.”
...The Jayhawks ended the game on a defense-fueled 12-0 streak. The team that survived earlier-round scares against No. 10 seed Purdue and No. 11 seed North Carolina State by putting faith in its defensive will turned to its power once again.
But first, Johnson loosened things up with a three-pointer, launched a couple of feet from the KU bench after the Tar Heels’ defense gave him a slight opening.
“I wouldn’t want to go home tonight saying I could have shot that three when the defense backed off,” Johnson said. “I made them pay.”
Just as he did with the monster triple that proved to be the game-winner against the Boilermakers and a layup that gave the Jayhawks breathing room against the Wolfpack.
Kansas seemed energized by the shot. Two possessions later, Jeff Withey blocked Henson’s shot and then alertly tipped the ball to Taylor, who raced to the hoop for a layup and was fouled by Stilman White.
“(Jeff) made eye contact with me after the block,” Taylor said, “and as soon as he landed back on the ground he tipped it to me as hard as he could.”
The three-point play opened a 73-67 lead. Withey, playing with four fouls, then blocked a short jumper by White. This time Releford got the transition dunk with 1:29 remaining and the Jayhawks began to feel it.
Harrison Barnes sat slumped near his locker, blue towel draped over his head, arms crossed, his gray Air Jordans pointing toward the middle of the room.
Three minutes passed. Five minutes. Ten minutes.
Across the locker room, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall sat in a chair, his right wrist covered by a black brace, his purple tie still knotted. Just a few feet away, junior forward John Henson was buried in a mass of reporters.
But Barnes, a sophomore forward, stayed still, deflated and defeated.
“There wasn’t much to be said,” Barnes would eventually say.
…For North Carolina, the seeds of defeat took root in the final leg of the second half. With Kansas holding a 68-64 lead near the under 8-minute media timeout, Kansas slipped into a triangle-and-two defense, putting two in man-to-man and shifting three others into a zone. KU had employed a similar look in the final stages of its earlier-round victory over Purdue. And Self said the coaches on the Kansas bench seemed to think it would work again — if the Jayhawks could rebound.
At first, the North Carolina players seemed unsure of how to attack it. Marshall, sitting on the bench with his broken wrist, watched the offense start to sputter.
“I think it caught us off guard,” he said. “… It took us a couple plays to realize we could still run our regular offense, and it could still be effective. By that time, we had kind of dug ourselves into a hole that we couldn’t get ourselves out of.”
With 5:46 left, North Carolina senior center Kyle Zeller hit a jumper, cutting KU’s lead to 68-66. The Tar Heels wouldn’t make another field goal. Nine missed shots. Turnovers. Two blocks in the lane by Kansas center Jeff Withey that turned into KU points in transition.
“Everywhere you went, there was help defense right there and ready,” Barnes said. “I remember the one time: I caught it on the left wing, pump fake, Travis Releford goes in the air. I take one dribble and Elijah Johnson or Tyshawn Taylor is right there.”
Inside the North Carolina locker room, there seemed to be some confusion on what defenses the Jayhawks were playing in the final minutes — or if they were even in the triangle-and-two at all.
Barnes indicated that the North Carolina players didn’t know that the triangle-and-two scheme was part of Kansas’ defense repertoire.
“They haven’t done it in the past,” said Barnes, who finished with 13 points while missing all five of his three-point attempts. “But they tried it out against us.”
Successful teams are a reflection of their coach. Self is a confident, intense, thick-skinned, combative, relentless competitor. His players were the same in outlasting an injury-torn-but-still potent North Carolina team.
The Tar Heels (32-6) were the leading rebounding team in the nation, and Kansas (31-6) beat them on the boards, 41-35. Carolina’s two top ball handlers, injured McDonald’s All-Americans Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland, didn’t play, but five other McDonald’s All-Americans did.
The Heels outscored KU’s bench, 23-4, but Kevin Young by himself outrebounded the UNC bench, 8-7.
All five Kansas starters scored in double figures and all made big plays in the decisive moments, when North Carolina made one of its final 14 shots and missed its last seven.
"We knew we were going to make a name for ourselves We knew we were going to come together and do this," teammate Travis Releford said as, one by one, Kansas players ascended a ladder and snipped the net behind him.
"We've still got another goal, though. This ain't it. This ain't it."
LJW Keegan Ratings: Withey leads
“Sometimes they say teams that have one or two really good scorers and know, ‘This is our go-to guy,’ sometimes those are most dangerous teams,” Teahan said. “I feel like that’s what we have.”
Kansas’ supporting cast certainly didn’t leave all the toil for Robinson and Taylor against North Carolina. Jeff Withey looked every bit as good as Carolina’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson, scoring 15 points, making all five of his attempts and blocking two shots in the final minutes.
Travis Releford continued his junkyard play, stealing extra possessions and scoring 11 points. And Elijah Johnson, a player once questioned for his ability to serve as KU’s third wheel, added 10 points, including a 3-pointer with three minutes left that triggered KU’s 12-0 game-ending run.
After that 3-pointer, which put KU up four, Self patted Johnson on his backside and said, “Great shot.”
“Another huge shot from Elijah,” Taylor said. “That’s been his MO of late.”
Fran Fraschilla leaned back in his chair, vocal cords strained by a furious half of radio commentary, and let out a long, audible, “Whew!”
That pretty much summed it up. Kansas and North Carolina played a beautiful half of basketball Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, the kind of half that could send pregnant women into labor and cause wild dogs to howl. It was 20 minutes that seemed to last 12 seconds. It was thrilling and perfect and, for KU, unsustainable.
“They just wore us out,” coach Bill Self said.
As entertaining as the first half may have been, the only way the Jayhawks were going to play in the Final Four was to unleash the kind of defense they played in the game’s final 10 minutes. Aided by Self’s switch to a triangle-and-two, KU smothered the Tar Heels late and pulled away for an 80-67 win Sunday in the Midwest regional finals.
“I really figured that if it was a horse contest, we’d have no shot,” Self said. “At some point in time, it had to become a grind-it-out defensive game, and fortunately it was.”
Make no mistake: The Jayhawks enjoyed that first half, which ended with the score tied at 47. After watching shots bounce off the rim at every angle during their first three NCAA Tournament wins, they needed to see the ball go in the basket.
The first half restored a swagger KU hadn’t shown in the postseason, even if it was played at North Carolina’s pace.
“It felt good to make some shots,” said point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who scored 22 points. “It also felt good to get up and down, but we understood that’s how Carolina plays. They want to push the ball and score as many points as they can.
“We knew we couldn’t play into their hands, but when we did for that first couple minutes, it was good. We matched them.”
Tarred and Feathered: On Being a Fan of KU and UNC by Brian Frederick
The network's production of UNC's game Sunday was maddening. The overhead camera in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis almost induced vertigo. If I wanted the view from what would've been the two-dollar seats, I've have bought that ticket.
On multiple occasions, CBS would split a screen during play, often to show a graphic. For those of us who don't have the 150-inch plasma screen, that's a problem.
Worse, UNC's first possession after halftime, after that raucous 47-47 first-half shoot-out, was all but ignored. CBS, during those NCAA-mandated 20 minutes of intermission, couldn't figure out a way to air the Bill Self interview during that time. Was what Charles Barkley had to say really more important?
And I lost count at the number of angles from which we were forced to watch free throws: From the VertigoCam, from a floor-level camera at midcourt, from the baseline with the arena's bright lights glaring and from behind cheerleaders' pom-pons. A free throw is a scoring play. It's important, and it's not a time for CBS to experiment.
Just because you have a technology box full of tools doesn't mean you use them all. Just show the game.
College basketball had a regional final, the last ticket being punched for New Orleans, of a quality that puts to shame any ol' midweek BCS bowl game.
Thing is, this Final Four could be one of the best in many years with the four powerhouse programs. And viewers should really enjoy the games — as long as CBS uses its technology to enhance the broadcasts and not ruin them.