OMAHA, Neb. — Kansas is back in the Final Four.
The top-seeded Jayhawks held off No. 2 Duke in overtime, 85-81, in a classic Elite 8 battle between two of the sport’s most storied programs.
Kansas will face Villanova in San Antonio on Saturday night in the national semifinals.
Malik Newman’s three-pointer with 1:29 remaining in the extra frame broke a 78-78 tie and ultimately secured the Jayhawks’ first trip back to the season’s final weekend since 2012. Duke did not score in the final 2:36 of overtime.
Newman starred for the Jayhawks, scoring 32 points to help the Jayhawks win the Midwest Region. Since the start of the Big 12 tournament, Newman is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 54.9 percent from three while making four threes per-game to lead Kansas to this seven-game winning streak.
The game got to overtime thanks to Svi Mykhailiuk. The oft-maligned veteran buried a three with 30 seconds left in regulation, the biggest shot that he’s made in a four-year career that hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations that were heaped upon him when he arrived in Lawrence.
And while Newman is going to get the plaudits — and rightfully so — an argument can be made that it was Svi that was the most important player for the Jayhawks on Sunday. The 6-foot-8 wing is more of a shooting guard by trade but has been forced into playing a small-ball four role for Kansas this season, which was problematic. Duke has one of the biggest front lines that we’ve seen in the sport in a long time, and that meant that Svi — who has sent four years being criticized for his lack of toughness and defensive acumen — would be facing off with Marvin Bagley III, a super-human that may or may not be from this planet.
Should I mentioned that Udoka Azubuike, the best big man on the Kansas roster, played just 19 minutes of the overtime contest because of fouls?
Svi more than held his own. He grabbed a team-high 10 boards, a number that is all the more impressive when you consider that Bagley and Wendell Carter combined for 12 total rebounds. He also added five assists, as the Jayhawks were able to navigate the Duke zone better than anyone we’ve seen since the Blue Devils made the adjustment a month ago.
All in all, it is nothing short of a miracle that Bill Self has gotten this team to the Final Four.
And it may just be the best coaching job of his entire storied career.