New Orleans — Kansas, ranked No. 1 in the country and rolling into mid-March, had its national championship hopes dashed two years ago by an unbeatable foe — the pandemic that wiped out the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks, who have a long history of NCAA Tournament disappointments, put those regrets and others behind them on Monday night, rallying from a 16-point deficit — the biggest comeback in a championship game — to back North Carolina. For, 72-69, before 69,423 fans at the Superdome.
David McCormack, his bullish senior centre, whose career has mirrored the up and down arc of Jayhawks tournament fortunes, made a moving bucket by following his own lapse and then – following Armando Bacot, a gimmicky right ankle. While playing, he was injured on his way to the basket – scoring a goal again in the post to extend Kansas’ lead to 3 points.
Kansas then had to avoid a pair of 3-pointers by Caleb Love and Puff Johnson – and, after the turnover gave North Carolina one last shot, another by Love, the shooter who saved the Tar Heels so many times in this tournament, He didn’t come close.
When the buzzer rings, the Jayhawks storm the court, McCormack runs to shout at the Kansas radio broadcaster as confetti starts falling down the ceiling.
The win was the first championship for the Jayhawks since 2008, when they overtook Memphis in overtime – sent off by a late 3-pointer from Mario Chalmers, a shot that lives on among the school’s rich basketball lore. It also marks the fifth consecutive tournament in which the No. 1 seed has won the crown.
The game may have turned on the tender right ankle of Bacot, a North Carolina center who had to be taken off the court in a semifinal win over Duke and slipped while driving into the basket with 50 seconds left on Monday night. After, written on the floor in pain. Bacot picked himself up and ran to the defensive end of the court until the officials deadened the play so he could leave.
It was another sign that the Tar Heels, who were trying to become the first No. 8 seed to win the championship since Villanova in 1985, gave in until they could give no more. Brady Manek was out of the game with McCormack’s elbow injury, returning to deliver 13 points and 13 rebounds. And Johnson, the reserve forward, took a charge that later doubled him, vomiting on the court.
But without Becott in the game, Kansas, with a 70-69 lead, went to McCormack, its 6-foot-10, 250-pound center, who pushed Maneck back to lead the Jayhawks 72-69.
Bill Self became the first Kansas coach to win more than one title, distinguishing himself among some of the sport’s most celebrated leaders, from James Naismith—who is credited with inventing the game—to Fogg Allen, whose Named after Allen Fieldhouse, and Larry Brown, the only coach to have won both the NCAA and NBA championships.
“When your team had to fight and come back to win it was off the charts,” Self said. “I thought it would be cool and it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.”
Whether Kansas will be able to defend its crown is not certain. The NCAA’s glacial judicial process may be nearing a final verdict in a case stemming from a federal bribery scandal that brought five Level 1 charges against Self’s program.
Oklahoma State was barred from last year’s tournament and Arizona, Louisville and Auburn imposed self-imposed sanctions resulting from the same scandal. None of them were charged with a violation as serious as Kansas.
However, these questions belong to another day.
On Monday night, another spectacular ending took place in the Final Four under the Superdome roof. Often it has been a blessing for North Carolina, which won here in 1982 when Michael Jordan sank a jumper off the wing, and again in 1993, when Chris Webber of Michigan called a timeout, giving him a Tar Heels victory. But didn’t have to sign.
The Tar Heels, who survived an epic fight with the Dukes on Saturday, sent their rival’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, into retirement, prepared for another celebration when he bounced back from an early loss and took the court off Kansas. threatened to run North Carolina took a 38–22 lead, with Bacot upsetting two of the Jayhawks’ primary post players, McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot with fouls.
It’s fair to wonder whether Kansas is sticking pins into a voodoo doll the way its adversaries are falling for. Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner sustained a knee injury late in an overtime win over San Diego State and missed the BlueJays’ narrow loss to Kansas. Villanova guard Justin Moore tore his right Achilles tendon in the final seconds of the win over Houston, and his defense may have helped against Agazi, who hit his first six 3-pointers against the Wildcats in their national semifinals.
Then Bacott fell to the floor late in North Carolina’s win over Duke on Saturday night and had to help off the bench. He returned somewhat stubbornly, but declared himself ready on Sunday. “My position for tomorrow is ‘I’m playing,'” Becott said, adding. “I have to amputate my right leg to not play.”
McCormack immediately tested Becot. He pitched his way over the rim for a basket and blocked Becot’s first two shots, then fell to the floor to pounce on a loose ball. Apparently tired of punishing Bacot, McCormack leveled Manek with a stray elbow—all but five minutes old before the game.
But Becott stabilized himself and went toe to toe with McCormack, chest to chest and chin to chin, using his athleticism to upset the Kansas big man. Bacot finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, becoming the first player to record six double-doubles in an NCAA tournament.
All that went right for Kansas in the latter half of the opening half was Remy Martin banking in a 3-pointer – and then shrinking for the CBS broadcasters as he was back on defense. Kansas was walking past the locker room, 40-25.
“The coach clearly challenged us,” Aghazi said. “He was raised in there.”
The break gave the Jayhawks a chance to collect themselves and they returned with renewed determination on defense. North Carolina lost 9 of 10 shots and Tar Heels best defender Leakey Black picked up two quick fouls, his third and fourth, and went to the bench with 13:52 to play. A moment later, Dajuan Harris snatched Davis and delivered a bounce pass on the break that Braun had placed, and the Jayhawks reduced their deficit to 1 at 46–45.
When Kansas rallied to take a 56-50 lead, RJ Davis stabilized the Tar Heels with a driving layup and midrange jumper. He then drew the defense and gave him the dish. Johnson, whose 3-pointer from the corner also drew the Tar Heels 57-57.
But Martin, a short transfer from Arizona State, sank a 3-pointer from the corner, giving Kansas a 63-60 lead – one of three triples he scored in the second half.
Martin was the lone addition to the Jayhawks rotation a year ago when they were floored by Southern California in the second round of the tournament – one of six times in the previous 12 tournaments they failed to survive the first weekend of the top four seeds. as tournament.
Martin’s arrival raised an interesting question: How would a fifth-year transfer from Arizona State, which led the Pac-12 in scoring as the ball-leading point guard, fit into an offense built around precise sets and sharp cuts?
“Remy is probably different than anyone I’ve ever coached,” Self said.
And for what Martin could do, he himself was no stranger. Martin scored 21 points as a freshman in Arizona State’s win at Allen Fieldhouse – one of 10 home losses over the past 15 seasons for Kansas. He proved it was more than Providence the following season when his last-minute pull-up jumper helped knock Kansas off its perch as the nation’s top-ranked team.
Knee injuries and hiccups adapting to the Jayhawks’ offensive structure and defensive demands have made it an uneven season for Martin. But he has found his place as a game-changing sixth man, who in later days activates the offense like Vinnie Johnson, nicknamed the Microwave. Martin scored 20 points in the win over Creighton and 23 in the win over Providence when the Jayhawks needed their offense to survive.
“We didn’t have anyone that you could do bad offense and come up with a basketball, and he’s one of those people,” Self said.
Kansas needed all 14 points Martin got from the bench, but there was no shortage of contributors. McCormack had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Jalen Wilson was an unsung contributor with 15 rebounds and Aghazi – named outstanding player of the tournament – contributed 12 points with Christian Brawn.
It was, barely, enough to catch North Carolina, who sent wave after wave of rebounders – grabbing 24 missed shots of her own, which left Brady Manek’s tip-in dunk with 1:41, which struck North Carolina. 69-68 ahead.
But the tar heels—like Bacot’s ankle—couldn’t last.