ST. LOUIS —
Back 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 5 1/2 minutes of an 80-67 victory over old coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels yesterday.
“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) will play Ohio State on Saturday in their first Final Four appearance since winning the 2008 national championship.
And how’s this for symmetry? Kansas began this year’s tournament in Omaha, Neb., the same place as four years ago.
As the game ended, Taylor — much maligned for his shooting struggles during the first three games of the NCAA tournament — ran to Kansas fans and raised both arms in the air. Travis Releford tossed his sweatbands into the crowd.
“This is what you come to Kansas for,” Taylor said. “It’s a great feeling, but it’s just one step.”
Taylor led all five Jayhawks starters in double figures. Player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson added 18 points and nine rebounds, and Elijah Johnson kept up his blistering pace in the tournament with 10 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:07 to play that sparked Kansas’ 12-0 run to end the game. Jeff Withey made two monster blocks to deny the Tar Heels during the final run — including 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 and streaked downcourt for a layup, getting fouled by Stilman White in the process. As what seemed like the entire state of Kansas roared, 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 on the other end, and the Tar Heels never threatened again in the Midwest Regional final.
James Michael McAdoo scored 15 for the Tar Heels (32-6), who played better in their second game without injured star point guard Kendall Marshall. But North Carolina couldn’t make a basket over the last 5:46.
It was only the third defeat in 12 regional final appearances for the Tar Heels, but their second straight after losing to Kentucky last year.
“It was a game of runs,” Williams said. “And we didn’t answer the last one.”
Harrison Barnes finished with 13 points and four assists, but also had three turnovers. Tyler Zeller had 12 points, six rebounds and four blocks in his final game.
“We had an opportunity to win that game and we didn’t come through,” said Barnes, who sat slumped in front of his locker, a towel covering his head, for several minutes. “I missed a lot of shots I usually make. Big-time players come through in big-time games, and it just wasn’t there tonight.”
ATLANTA (AP) — Top-seeded Kentucky cruised into the Final Four for the second year in a row, blitzing Baylor with a dominating first half in the South Regional final.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points and the Wildcats (36-2) took control with an early 16-0 run. Kentucky led 42-22 at halftime and Baylor (30-8) never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Anthony Davis had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Terrence Jones was all over the place with nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals — most of it in the first 10 minutes.
Kentucky will face state rival Louisville in the NCAA semifinals at New Orleans on Saturday. The Wildcats will be seeking their first national title since 1998.
Quincy Acy led Baylor with 22 points. The Bears were eliminated in the regional final for the second time in three years.
PHOENIX (AP) — Freshman forward Chane Behanan made the go-ahead basket with 1:06 left and fourth-seeded Louisville finished the game on a 23-8 run for a 72-68 victory over Florida on Saturday in the NCAA West Regional final, earning the Cardinals a trip to the Final Four.
Russ Smith, who finished with 19 points, followed Behanan’s bucket with a pair of free throws, then Florida’s Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton each missed chances to tie.
Louisville (30-9) made one more free throw to seal the game and reach its ninth Final Four, the second under Rick Pitino, despite playing the final 3:58 without point guard Peyton Siva, who fouled out.
The win also kept Pitino undeafeated against his protege, Florida coach Billy Donovan.
The seventh-seeded Gators went out in the regional final for the second straight year, with Donovan falling to 0-7 lifetime against the man who coached him at Providence, hired him as an assistant at Kentucky and felt as proud as a papa when Donovan won his two national titles.
The Gators, who led by 11 points in the second half, went cold — really cold — after an incredible shooting display in the opening half. They went 8 for 11 from 3-point range in the first, then missed all nine attempts from beyond the arc in the second.
The Gators missed seven shots and committed one turnover over the last 2:30.
Behanan scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine over the last 8:02 and Louisville’s last two field goals — both after Siva left with nine points and eight assists.
Beal and Erik Murphy each had 14 points for Florida.
Ohio State 77,
BOSTON (AP) — Jared Sullinger recovered from first-half foul trouble to score 19 points and grab seven rebounds, helping Ohio State beat Syracuse to advance to the Final Four.
It will be the Buckeyes’ first trip to the NCAA semifinals since 2007.
Deshaun Thomas had 14 points and nine rebounds for No. 2 seed Ohio State (31-7), which led by eight with 59 seconds to play and held on after the Orange cut it to three. The Buckeyes made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 68 seconds.
Brandon Triche scored 15 points and Baye Keita had 10 rebounds for top-seeded Syracuse (34-3). The Orange were hoping for a return trip to New Orleans, where they won their only national championship in 2003.
Ohio State now awaits the winner of the South Regional final between North Carolina and Kansas.
The loss ended a tumultuous season for Syracuse that began with accusations by two former ball boys that they were sexually abused in the 1980s by Bernie Fine, a longtime Syracuse assistant coach. Boeheim vigorously defended Fine, but later walked back his support in the face of new information. Fine, fired Nov. 27, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.