Thanks to a fast start to the second half the Kansas Jayhawks find themselves one win away from a national title few thought they could win back in October.
Thomas Robinson scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but once again the play of Elijah Johnson was a key factor in a Kansas victory.
Johnson scored 13 points and grabbed ten rebounds to help lead the Jayhawks past No. 2 seed Ohio State 64-62 in the second semifinal in New Orleans.
Ohio State led by as many as 13 points in the first half, but foul trouble for Deshaun Thomas led to offensive struggles for the East Region champions.
The reward for the Jayhawks is a match-up with top overall seed Kentucky on Monday night.
“Well, it’s kind of a tale of two halves, two games,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self. “The light came on and then we were much more aggressive the second half.
“They missed some shots, we controlled the glass, were able to play through our bigs, get out and run. The biggest thing is we got stops and rebounded.”
Johnson wasn’t the only “unsung” hero for Kansas however, as Travis Releford also made some key plays during the second half.
Releford finished with 15 points, making 5 of 7 shots from the field, and grabbing six rebounds.
William Buford led Ohio State with 19 points and seven rebounds but Jared Sullinger struggled with the length of 7-footer Jeff Withey (seven blocked shots), shooting 5 of 19 from the field and scoring 13 points.
“My teammates definitely look at me and see me as a protector. They know if they get beat, I’m there,” said Withey. “I’m there to help them block shots. When I blocked Jared, I was standing straight up. I guess my length bothered him.”
The Buckeyes did themselves in with poor shot selection, with 23 of their 59 field goals being attempted beyond the arc (making eight).
Down two in the final seconds, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft attempted to rebound his own intentional miss but was called for a lane violation.
According to the NCAA rule book a shooter cannot cross the vertical plane of the foul line before the ball hits the rim. Therefore the correct call was made. A quick in-bounds pass later it was Kansas advancing to the title game.
As a team the Buckeyes shot 33.3 percent inside of the arc, compared to Kansas making 48.9 percent of its 2-point shots. The win sets up a rematch of the November 15 meeting in New York, which Kentucky won 75-65.
The Wildcats shot 64 percent from the field in the second half of that contest, winning despite turning the ball over 19 times.
But the Johnson, Releford and Withey they’ll encounter on Monday are much different from the players Kentucky saw on that night.
Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.