A Kansas team often more full of question marks than definitive wins this season made its mark in Sunday night's Elite Eight win over North Carolina, giving another fine example of how the Jayhawks can turn another team's weakness into enough of an outburst to win.
With Kansas up by a point and the three-minute mark approaching, Kansas guard Elijah Johnson took the ball on the wing, and the North Carolina defense shifted off, with the players switching their assignments a shade early rather than staying in tight man-to-man.
Johnson wasted no time taking advantage of the gap left by the shift, drilling a 3-pointer that put the Jayhawks ahead 71-67 with 3:07 left. What had been a close game throughout soon broke open. Kansas pulled together a couple of defensive stops, North Carolina couldn't score on its end, and the final two minutes were spent with Kansas moving farther and farther away as it locked up its Final Four spot, 80-67.
North Carolina's problems on defense and guarding the deep ball were just a couple of the Tar Heels' issues in the Elite Eight matchup, where what could have been a classic between college basketball superpowers instead turned into another example of how Kansas can pick an opponent apart methodically until swooping in for the kill. The young Jayhawks team has had its problems with consistency this year, but Kansas looks to be getting its pieces in order just at the right time this year to contend for the title.
Kansas used its balanced attack throughout Elite Eight contest to feast on a team short its star point guard (North Carolina's Kendall Marshall broke his wrist in the Round of 32), and the Jayhawks now have just two more games standing between them and more tournament glory.
Ever since Dr. James Naismith brought peach baskets to the plains more than a century ago, the Kansas tradition has continued. The coaches to roll through Lawrence since then have been big names, including now-North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Bill Self, who took the reins in 2003.
Self's time leading Kansas has been rocky, with the petulant fan base not always happy with the team's early exits from the tournament. But Self has also shown them he can win — the Jayhawks took the championship in 2008 in dramatic fashion — and this year he has pulled together one of his finest teams ever out of early recruiting wreckage.
The Jayhawks now head into the jowls of Ohio State, an athletic team with superior defense. Kansas will need Johnson and his fellow guards, Tyshawn Taylor (22 points against North Carolina) and Travis Releford, to step up, while the team continues to draw from center Jeff Withey, who has shown he can be a terror around the basket when needed.
The Final Four won't be easy competition, but after tearing open a North Carolina team the Jayhawks could have tried to merely outlast, Kansas is now headed to New Orleans with a bounce in its step.
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