No. 6 Kansas 64, No. 7 Ohio St. 62
The tightrope walk rocks on for the Jayhawks.
Kansas, the underrated, undervalued team that’s been teetering
on the edge of the tournament since before it even began, is now
one of the last two left.
Tyshawn Taylor made two big free throws late, and All-American
Thomas Robinson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds Saturday
night to lift the Jayhawks to a come-from-behind 64-62 win over
Ohio State in the Final Four – a game Kansas led for a grand total
of 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
After scoring the game’s first bucket, Kansas didn’t lead again
until Travis Releford made two free throws with 2:48 left. That
lasted for 11 seconds, but the Jayhawks (32-6), who trailed by as
many as 13, overcame another deficit and finally held on against
the Buckeyes (31-8).
”It’s just been our thing all year, coming back,” Robinson
said. ”I don’t like doing it, but for some reason my team is
pretty good when we’re down.”
More than pretty good. Kansas is one more magic act from
bringing its second title in five years back to Allen Fieldhouse.
It might take exactly that. The opponent is Kentucky, the big-time
favorite to win it all, and a 69-61 winner over Louisville in the
evening’s first semifinal. The Wildcats are an early 6.5-point
”It’s a dream to play the best team in the country, up `til
now, hands down, the most consistent,” Kansas coach Bill Self
said. ”It’s a thrill. And I think it’s even more of a thrill for
us, because I don’t think anybody thought we could get here.”
Taylor’s two free throws with 8.3 seconds left gave Kansas a
64-61 lead, matching its biggest of the game. The Jayhawks
intentionally fouled Aaron Craft with 2.9 seconds left. Craft made
the first, then quickly clanked the second one off the front of the
rim but was called for a lane violation.
Kansas dribbled out the clock and celebrated a win that played
out sort of the way the whole season has in Lawrence.
With most of the experienced players from last year gone, Self
at times wondered if this team was even tournament material. The
Jayhawks still won the Big 12 title – for the eighth straight time
– but came into the tournament as what some felt was an underrated
No. 2 seed.
They played down to their billing in their second game, against
Purdue, barely escaping with a 63-60 win that looked a lot like
this game in the Superdome.
”It was two different games,” Self said of the latest escape
act. ”They dominated us the first half. We were playing in
quicksand it looked like. And the light came on. We were able to
play through our bigs; we were able to get out and run, but the
biggest thing is we got stops.”
Kansas’ next test will feature a coaching rematch between Self
and John Calipari, who was with Memphis in 2008 when the Tigers
missed four free throws down the stretch and blew a nine-point lead
in an overtime loss to Mario Chalmers and the Jayhawks.
A big comeback. Sound familiar? This year’s Jayhawks also
overcame a 19-point deficit to win their final regular-season
meeting against Missouri – their long-time, SEC-bound
”It’s a 40-minute game,” Self said. ”There’s no 13-point
plays. You have to grind it and get one stop at a time.”
This was a heartbreaker for the Buckeyes, who came in as co-Big
Ten champions and a slight favorite in a game – a rematch of a
78-67 Kansas win back in December when Ohio State’s All-American,
Jared Sullinger, was not available.
Sullinger was there a-plenty Saturday night, but he struggled.
He finished with 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting, no fewer than
three of them blocked by Jeff Withey, the Kansas center who
finished with seven swats. Sullinger also had 11 rebounds and 3
blocks, but the sophomore who gave up NBA lottery money to return
and win a championship will go without for at least another
When the buzzer sounded, he plopped at midcourt, clearly pooped
– and maybe wondering how his team let this game slip away.
”These guys got tears in their eyes, blank stares on their
faces,” Sullinger said. ”It’s tough on me.”
Ohio State-Kansas was billed as ”The Other Game” of this Final
Four – garnering much less ink than the Kentucky-Louisville blood
feud that preceded it – and started off looking like every bit the
The Buckeyes built an early 13-point lead on the strength of the
shooting of William Buford, who came out of a 13-for-44 tournament
slump to lead the Buckeyes with 19 points on 6 for 10 from the
floor. Kansas trailed 34-25 at the half and only a steal and layup
before the buzzer prevented the Jayhawks from a season-low.
Things changed when Ohio State came out and promptly missed its
first 10 shots from the field, while Deshaun Thomas – the Ohio
State big man in charge of shutting down Robinson – headed to the
bench with his third foul.
That opened things up for KU: A couple easy layups for Robinson
and a kick-out to Elijah Johnson for a 3-pointer were part of a
13-4 run to open the half. It tied the game at 38 and set up for a
nip-and-tuck finish between these No. 2 seeds, each of which were
in the hunt for top seeding all the way up to Selection Sunday.
Releford finished with 15 points and six rebounds for the
Jayhawks. Johnson had 13 points and 10 boards. Taylor finished with
10 points and nine assists – not bad considering the time Craft
spent glued to him much of the night.
Craft said he thought a quick brick and a rebound on the final
free throw was his best chance to save the game. There wasn’t much
of an argument after he got called for the lane violation,
”There is no explanation,” Craft said. ”Apparently I crossed
before it hit the rim. I just knew I had to miss it. I thought that
would be the best way for us to get the ball back.”
That end-game was set up when Releford made two free throws with
1:37 left to put KU ahead 60-59. Buford tried to take the ball to
the basket on the next possession, but Withey swatted it away.
Johnson followed with a layup – hardly as dramatic as his
game-winner against Purdue, but enough for a three-point lead,
which seemed like a million for the Jayhawks in this one.
Not that the Jayhawks need a big lead – or any lead.
”I think we’re trying to make it fun for y’all,” Robinson
said. ”Seriously, I wish it would stop. I mean, I’d feel better at