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No. 1 Kansas bests No. 2 Duke in OT classic, headed to Final Four

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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.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

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OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

“I thought for 30 minutes, I thought we played very well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But we just kind of played not to lose down the stretch and allowed them to put some game pressure on us.

“But they say this time of year is survive and advance, and we were able to do that. And certainly very happy about getting a chance to play in the biggest game of our season thus far Sunday.”

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

“My confidence is sky high,” Newman said. “I’m not really out there thinking anymore, just playing, doing what Coach asked me to do and just trying to make plays, winning plays for the team to win. I mean, I just credit it to my teammates and the coaches.”

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

“I just tried in any way possible to give my team a chance to win at the end,” DeVoe said. “Really tried to rally the guys in the first half when we got down, just continued to fight. Made
some big stops down the stretch, gave us a chance but we just weren’t able to get over the hump.”

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: Was this a foul on Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham?

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With 34 seconds remaining in the South Regional Final between No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Villanova, an important foul call was made against Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham. After losing the ball while dribbling through the Villanova trap, Graham dove for the loose ball at the same time that Villanova’s Josh Hart reached out for it.

In the play Graham and Hart touched the ball simultaneously, but Graham’s momentum took him into Hart. The official called Graham for a foul, his fifth, and the Jayhawks lost the player who to that point in the game had made all five of the team’s three-pointers for the game.

You make the call: should Graham have been called for a foul on that play? A travel? Or should the officials have let the play go?

Following the game official Terry Wymer provided the following explanation for the call:

“Kansas was the team in control of the ball. The ball came loose and Kansas maintained the ball. Number four for Kansas (Graham) undercut number three for Villanova (Hart). Therefore it was a team control foul and they were not shooting a one-and-one. They never lost the ball. We got together to review the sequences to make sure.”

No. 1 Kansas advances to Sweet 16 for first time in three years

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Since losing to Kentucky in the 2012 national title game, South No. 1 Kansas has gone no further than the Sweet 16 in any of the three NCAA tournaments that followed. But this year’s edition of the Jayhawks are a more complete team than any of those three squads, and entering this tournament Bill Self’s team was seen by many as the favorites to cut down the nets.

Saturday night Kansas moved one step closer to its first national title in eight years with a 73-61 win over No. 9 UConn in Des Moines.

After going on a 13-0 run early in the first half Kansas ripped off a 19-0 that essentially removed any doubt regarding the outcome, as their play on both ends of the floor proved to be too much for the Huskies. Kevin Ollie’s team trimmed the deficit to nine in the second half, but at that point Kansas re-applied itself defensively to take control of the game for good.

UConn didn’t have an answer for Kansas’ offense for most of the game, with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting while also grabbing eight boards and Wayne Selden Jr. added 22 on 8-for-15 from the field. Kansas shot 56 percent in the first half, and if not for a sluggish start to the second half their percentage for the game would have been higher than the 49 percent they finished with.

Defensively the Jayhawks kept the Huskies out of the paint, forcing UConn to settle for challenged two-point shots and drives to the basket that resulted in Jamari Traylor blocks in a couple instances. And as the stops added up so did the margin, with Kansas controlling the boards on both ends of the floor as well.

Next up for Kansas is either No. 5 Maryland or No. 13 Hawai’i, and if they play anywhere near the level they played at for most of their two games in Des Moines the Big 12 champs are going to be an incredibly tough out.

There may not be a “star” with the hype of an Andrew Wiggins (2014) on this roster, but Kansas has the depth and talent needed to find an answer for whatever the opposition offers up. And given the topsy-turvy nature of both this season and this tournament, that may be enough to win the national title.

No. 1 Kansas beats No. 22 Baylor 70-66 in Big 12 semifinals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self said the final couple minutes of Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal against Baylor didn’t take anything away from his team’s impressive second-half performance.

Even if it almost took away a win.

After overcoming a halftime deficit to build a comfortable lead, Self put in his backups to coax the game to its conclusion. But the No. 22 Bears rallied, forcing the Kansas starters back onto the floor, where they finally managed to finish off a 70-66 victory.

“I had one guy ask me yesterday, `Hey, when you get a lead in the last two minutes, why don’t you play your bench?”‘ Self said. “And I did. And it didn’t work out so great.”

Al Freeman’s 3-pointer got Baylor within 68-64 with 20 seconds left, and that was when Self sent his top players back on the floor. Jonathan Motley’s putback then got the Bears within three with five seconds to go, but Devonte Graham calmly made the second of two free throws at the other end to put the game away.

Graham had 14 points and eight assists as the Jayhawks (29-4) beat the Bears (22-11) for the third time this season – and avenged their tournament loss from a year ago. Perry Ellis scored 20 points.

Kansas will play sixth-ranked Oklahoma or No. 9 West Virginia for the title Saturday night.

“Proud that our guys didn’t quit at the end,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Kansas really executed well in the second half. I told coach Self, they guard so well.”

Freeman scored 14 points and Rico Gathers had 13 points and nine boards, but nobody in green got into much of a rhythm against the Jayhawks’ man-to-man defense. Taurean Prince was held to nine points, going 0 for 6 from beyond the arc, and Ish Wainwright managed four points on 2-for-9 shooting before fouling out.

The victory was the 13th straight for Kansas, which can match the number of tournament titles won by every other Big 12 school with its 10th. The Jayhawks also improved to 3-0 at the Sprint Center this season with their eighth consecutive win over the Bears.

Not that they didn’t have a chance: Baylor forged a 23-21 lead after a sloppy first half.

The teams combined for 17 turnovers, Kansas at one point throwing it away on four straight possessions. Baylor’s Lester Medford tossed a pass to nobody at one end of the floor, and then Ellis launched an air ball from beyond the arc as the teams went into a deep offensive funk.

For a while, it seemed as if nobody wanted to score.

There were only two real highlights: Graham had five assists for Kansas, including back-to-back alley-oop lobs to Ellis, and Jake Lindsey hit a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Bears the halftime edge.

Kansas began to take control as soon as it left the locker room.

Ellis went on a personal 8-0 run, and Wayne Selden Jr. woke up a sleepy crowd with a soaring dunk. A few minutes later, Graham tossed up a lob from just inside midcourt that Selden threw down for a 43-33 lead.

“We knew we were playing flat, kind of dead, not a lot of energy,” Graham said. “We knew we weren’t playing to our capability. … In the second half we tried to change it.”

Baylor began trying to get the ball to Gathers and Prince in the paint, but the Jayhawks did a good job of collapsing on defense. The Bears missed nine consecutive shots during a critical stretch midway through the second half, and that allowed the Jayhawks to establish a comfortable lead.

They wound up needing just about every point of it.

“We know the game is never over with us,” Freeman said. “We all have confidence in each other. Nobody has quit in them. We’re going to play every possession hard until it’s the last one in the game.”

QUOTABLE

Asked whether having to put the starters back in late in the game is a coach’s worst nightmare, Self replied: “No, the worst nightmare would be losing. This was just a bad dream.”

TIP-INS

Baylor: Motley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. … The Bears were playing in their third straight semifinal. They still have never won the Big 12 Tournament.

Kansas: Carlton Bragg had 10 points and seven rebounds. He had a career-high 12 points in a quarterfinal win over Kansas State. … Frank Mason III had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor heads back to Waco, Texas.

Kansas plays for its first title since 2013.

POSTERIZED: Wayne Selden Jr. throws down vicious dunk on Baylor defender

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Like his teammates, Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. got off to a slow start in the first half of his team’s Big 12 tournament semifinal against Baylor. But the Jayhawks got going in the second half, and Selden’s dunk on Baylor’s Ishmail Wainwright proved to be the highlight of the game.

Wainwright had good intentions when he attempted to rotate over to get between Selden and the basket in the second half of their Big 12 semifinal matchup. Unfortunately for Wainwright things did not work out as he likely envisioned, as his rotation was a bit late and Selden took flight for a powerful one-handed dunk.

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And to add insult to “injury,” Wainwright fouled out on the play. And the reaction that Selden’s uncle had to the dunk was priceless.

Vine credit: The Cauldron