CHICAGO – Kansas’ Jalen Wilson noticed the excitement on the other side.
The top-seeded Jayhawks went from leading by 13 in the second half to trailing Providence by a point with their season in danger of slipping away.
But the only No. 1 seed left in the NCAA Tournament responded to that brief challenge, stood firm and closed out a 66-61 victory on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight.
“I saw how excited they were getting, they started talking a little bit,” Wilson said. “I’m still confident in my team. We would never get rattled. We’ve seen every type of game, every type of situation. I’m just always confident in whatever comes our way.”
Remy Martin scored a season-high 23 points, and Kansas held Providence to 17 points in the first half.
The Jayhawks (31-6) made it farther than fellow No. 1 seeds Gonzaga and Arizona, both ousted in the Sweet 16, and Baylor, whose title defense ended in the second round. They will face either Miami or Iowa State in the Midwest Region final on Sunday.
Wilson added 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Jayhawks advanced to a regional final for the first time since 2018, when they reached their 15th Final Four. Coach Bill Self is seeking his fourth trip there since he arrived in 2003.
Kansas also moved ahead of Kentucky for most wins in Division I history with 2,354.
“I don’t know that I totally buy in 100 percent that we don’t ever get rattled,” Self said. “But I do think, as Jalen said, our league (the Big 12) has prepared us in the way you play so many close games. Every game is a fistfight. I think our guys have enough confidence that when things don’t go well as a team, they think that they can go make an individual play.”
After fourth-seeded Providence (27-6) took its one-point lead, Kansas responded with a 7-0 run.
Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji scored a season-low five points. But with Martin and Wilson leading the way, the Jayhawks won their eighth straight.
“All the practices, everything that we’ve done leading up to this point, we revert back to that,” Martin said. “We work really hard in practice, we do what needs to be done, we listen to Coach.”
And in situations like this?
“Stay calm, let each other know that they’re gonna go through their runs, but as long as we stick together, as we’ve been doing all season, we’re gonna get through this,” Martin said.
Providence finished with its highest win total since the 1973-74 team went 28-4. It was the Friars’ deepest NCAA Tournament run since reaching the regional finals in 1997 under Pete Gillen.
Al Durham scored 21 points. But the Friars shot 33.8% and made 4 of 23 3-pointers.
“I thought our team all year played with a resolve and a resilience that was second to none in America,” coach Ed Cooley said. “These kids – men – battled through a lot of adversity. … I’m not gonna let our men’s heads be down. This was one hell of a season, and we got beat by a great team.”
Durham, who transferred after four years at Indiana, called the Friars “a special group.”
“We were well connected, we all loved each other,” he said.
Kansas led 26-17 at halftime and 36-23 early in the second half before Providence went on a 9-2 run, capped by Ed Croswell’s three-point play.
That drew a loud roar from the Friars’ fans, and they had more to cheer after Noah Horchler nailed two 3-pointers in about a 50-second span to cut it to 41-40 midway through the half.
Reeves tied it at 44-all when he hit two free throws, and Horchler gave Providence its first lead at 48-47 when he scored on a layup with 5:49 remaining.
Wilson drove for a three-point play to put the Jayhawks back on top. Christian Braun drove for a layup, and David McCormack put back a wild miss by Wilson following a steal, making it 54-48 with 4:12 to play.
Agbaji had the Kansas contingent roaring when he threw down an alley-oop dunk to make it 57-50. A.J. Reeves answered with a 3 for Providence, but Kansas remained on top the rest of the way.
Providence: The Friars made a huge jump after finishing 13-13 a year ago. They won their first Big East regular-season championship and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.
Kansas: The Jayhawks delivered another solid defensive effort, particularly early on, and made enough shots to keep their championship hopes alive. They led by nine at the break after allowing their lowest point total in a half this season.
Kansas will try to remain unbeaten since a 74-64 loss at TCU on March 1.