Jayhawks’ Bill Self masterminds epic championship comeback

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a national championship game no one in Kansas will soon forget, Bill Self went from the Hall of Fame coach who too often failed on the big stage to the brilliant mastermind behind the biggest comeback in the game. history of NCAA title games. .

Crushed by North Carolina for most of the first 20 minutes Monday night, and after digging a seemingly insurmountable 40-25 deficit, the Jayhawks rallied for a 72-69 win over the Tar Heels inside the game. bustling Superdome to lift another pitch. expected banner to the rafters of the historic Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think when you’re the winningest program of all time, just by a small margin, and when the inventor of the game was your first coach, and people like Adolph Rupp come from Kansas and Dean Smith comes from Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain comes from Kansas, the expectations are that being okay is okay, but it’s not good enough,” Self said.

“Nobody has ever put pressure on me that we have to win another one,” he added, “but I think I put pressure on myself knowing that this place deserves more than what we have won.”

The Jayhawks, trailing the Tar Heels by 16 late in the first half Monday night, eclipsed Chicago’s Loyola’s 15-point comeback to beat Cincinnati in overtime in 1963 for the most in baseball history. a game for the title. They also set a record by overcoming the largest halftime deficit in a Final Four game.

“With a group of guys that are so experienced and have been around and know each other so well, it’s a little hard to see us nervous. And I think we bounced back at halftime,” Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “The coach had a great message for us and he challenged us to be better and have more pride. And that’s what we did.”

David McCormack finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and battled Carolina big man Armando Bacot all night in the paint. Remy Martin chipped in 11 of his 14 points after the break, while Jalen Wilson had 15 points, including a pair of big baskets early in the second half as the Jayhawks managed to turn a blowout into a ball game.

“Coach, he obviously challenged us and he was excited,” the Jayhawks’ Ochai Agbaji said, “but it was about us playing our game and executing in the second half and taking away what they were getting in the first half.”

It’s the fourth title for the Jayhawks and the second for Self, who claimed the first when another group of returning guys teamed up to beat Memphis in overtime in 2008. And this one came on the same floor of the Superdome where Kentucky denied him in the end a decade. behind, one of the many disappointments that Self and his team have experienced over the years.

There was the 2010 team that spent much of the season ranked No. 1 but lost in the second round of the tournament, and the following year the Jayhawks didn’t lose until late January, but were eliminated by VCU in the Elite Eight.

Kansas guard Christian Braun shoots over North Carolina forward Brady Manek during the first half of a college basketball game in the NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament, Monday, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans.

There was also the 2013 overtime loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16, and consecutive years in which Kansas failed to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. More recently, there was Villanova’s blowout in the 2018 Final Four, which Kansas avenged on Saturday night, and second-round exits in each of the previous two NCAA tournaments.

The Tar Heels were ready to add to the heartbreak on Monday night.

They dominated the offensive cup in the first half and scored second-chance baskets almost at will, while Kansas went through long stretches of offensive ineptitude. Martin was 1-for-5 from the field, his only 3-for-the-dash goal, and Wilson and Christian Braun were 2-for-13 from the floor.

At halftime, Self referenced the Jayhawks’ 2008 national championship return with his team, asking if they would rather be down by nine with 2 minutes remaining, as they were that night, or by 15 with 20 minutes still to play.

It took them about 10 minutes to learn their answer.

The trio of Braun, McCormack and Wilson went to work to start the second half, erasing North Carolina’s hard-won lead and eventually tying it up when Final Four MVP Agbaji converted a three-point play. with 10:53 to go.

It was a back-and-forth affair until McCormack picked up his own rebound and scored with 1:16 left. Bacot delivered the ball at the other end when his sprained ankle in the semifinals against Duke finally gave way. McCormack then added another basket with 22.3 seconds remaining to give the Jayhawks some breathing space.

“The game is on the line,” McCormack said. “The coach talks about keeping the ball high and going back up. That’s what was going through my mind. We work on tough shots every day. I work both hands, I get a quick basket, I go back on defense.”

Caleb Love and Puff Johnson missed 3-point attempts to tie it, then North Carolina had one last chance when Dajuan Harris turned the ball over with 4.3 seconds to go. The Tar Heels again gave the ball to Love, the hero of their dramatic win over the Blue Devils, but his shot missed as the clock expired and confetti began to fall from the sky.

The comeback broke the record for the largest halftime deficit overcome in a championship game, set by Kentucky in 1998, when it rallied from 10 points to beat Utah. He also broke the record of 11 Final Four halftime returns, set by Duke’s rally over Maryland in 2001 and Temple, when they beat Kansas State in the 1958 third-place game.

Perhaps most importantly, it removed any argument that Self will become one of the best managers in the game.

“That wasn’t in my mind,” Self said, “but I feel like we’ve had a lot of good teams over time, we could have had more than one, so although, like I said before, I never felt pressure. I didn’t know that we had to do this, but I knew that with what we had we could have done it more easily. So I actually think it means a lot to me.”

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