Kansas entered halftime trailing by one, 31-30, to Western Kentucky, a team that finished fourth in the Sun Belt East standings. Hours after Florida Golf Coast knocked off two-seeded Georgetown, WKU flirted with becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed.
Then Kevin Young corralled his own miss and did a reverse dunk to put Kansas up 32-31 and all was right with the world. However, Kansas did not make it easy when it regained the lead, as the Jayhawks sneaked out a 64- 57 win in a the South Region.
The Hilltoppers continued to float around, but Withey took over the second half, especially when George Fant picked up his fourth foul with 10:41 to go and when he fouled out with 5:37 to go. When Fant went out with his fourth foul he had 10 points and by the time he checked back in three minutes later, Kansas was finally starting to wear down WKU and had created some separation with a 47-42 lead.
T.J. Price hit a free throw with under seven minutes to go and it was the Hilltoppers last point for five minutes. During that time Kansas stretched the lead to 11, but bad decisions and costly turnovers helped WKU stay around until the end, as the Hilltoppers cut the lead to five twice with under two minutes to go and then cut the lead to four, 59-55 with 25 seconds to go off a Brandon Harrison three.
This isn’t a good sign for Kansas. The Jayhawks coughed the ball up 17 times. Luckily for Kansas, WKU could do nothing with the miscues, only scoring eight points off turnovers. It was a dismal night shooting for the Hilltoppers, shooting 7-for-37 in the second half and 3-for-20 from deep — WKU went over 35 minutes without hitting a three.
Kansas’ region features some dangerous teams, starting with Sunday’s matchup against Roy Williams and North Carolina. The Tar Heels shot 11-for-21 from three in their win over Villanova. Michigan is also in the South Region and could put on points in a hurry. It will be hard to expect both those teams will struggle offensively like Western Kentucky did. And then there is defenses like VCU and Florida.
You have to imagine VCU, a team they could meet in the Sweet 16, would take full advantage of 17 Jayhawk turnovers. Then if the top two seeds remaining in the South meet in the Elite Eight, Kansas is matched against one of the best scoring defenses in the country, Florida.
Kansas avoided being on the wrong side of history, but didn’t make it look easy. And it only gets tougher from here.