Self, Kansas flex rally chops again vs. OSU

NEW ORLEANS — Down 13 on five different occasions in the first half on Saturday, Bill Self appeared to be on a path to his first loss in the Final Four. An 11-of-30 shooting performance in the opening 20 minutes usually doesn’t equate to a national semifinal victory over a team as talented as Ohio State.

But as they’ve done several times this year, Self’s second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks saved their best for the final 10 minutes, erasing a 9-point halftime deficit to stun the Buckeyes , 64-62, in front of 73,361 at the Superdome.

“That’s just been our whole thing all year, coming back from being down,” Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson said. “I don’t like doing it, but for some reason my team is pretty good when we’re down.”
The Jayhawks were down by as many as 10 in the second half against Purdue in the third round of this year’s NCAA Tournament before rallying for 63-60 victory.

Saturday night was similar. With a shot at playing top-seeded Kentucky for a national championship riding on the outcome, Kansas (32-6) made its final push during the last five minutes. Down 55-49, Robinson, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, nailed consecutive jumpers and Travis Releford [15 points] and Tyshawn Taylor [10 points and nine assists] were a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

Ohio State (31-8), also a No. 2 seed, wasn’t nearly as efficient. Aaron Craft, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger all missed jumpers during the closing minutes. Those four and Lenzelle Smith combined to shoot 20-of-59 from the field, including 8-of-33 in the second half. None of the Buckeyes’ reserves attempted a shot.

“They wanted it more at the end,” said Sullinger, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “They started to convert when we could not convert. When they saw blood, they attacked us and we weren’t able to pick it up.”

The semifinal loss marked only the second time Ohio State has been defeated this season after leading at halftime (27-2).

Sullinger, who is likely to enter the NBA Draft now that his sophomore season has concluded, was bothered in the post by the defense of 7-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey (7 blocks), which was a significant factor in Sullinger going 5-of-19 from the field.

“Anthony Davis is the best shot-blocker in the country. But I think Jeff is probably second best,” said Self, who improved to 3-0 in Final Four games.

And those two will get to compete for the mythical shot-blocking crown on Monday in a game that has plenty of historical implications.

Kentucky and Kansas rank as the top two programs in all-time NCAA victories [Kentucky 2,089; Kansas 2,070] and the coaches will represent a re-match of the 2008 national title game when Self’s Jayhawks battled back to defeat John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers, 75-68 in overtime.

It’s also a re-match from Nov. 15 when Kansas lost to Kentucky, 75-65, at Madison Square Gardens.

“Our guys look forward to [the re-match],” Self said. “These guys want to play against the best. They’ve watched Kentucky all year long. They’ve listened to people talk about them, and they’ve already cleaned our clock once.”

Kentucky will be favored. After all, there’s been speculation that the Wildcats could hang with some of the lottery teams in the NBA. But Self wasn’t favored the last time he faced Calipari on the sports’ biggest stage.

Led by Chicago Bulls point guard and defending NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Memphis entered with only one loss and 38 victories.

“That Memphis team is very similar,” Self said. “That Memphis team was really good, no question about that. But I think this Kentucky team is better than that Memphis team.”

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