How Kansas Beat UNC to Win the NCAA National Championship
NEW ORLEANS – As the Kansas players at halftime plunged darkly out of the Superdome floor Monday night, dropping by 15 points, hiding foul problems and hiding through a powder blue North Carolina hurricane, David McCormack laughed it all off.
The Jayhawks’ languid senior center looked around the closet, clapping his hands, patting his teammates on the back and telling them they’d been there before, from deficits throughout the season rallies, including the NCAA Tournament.
Nevertheless, there were more than a few side glances that greeted him.
“I was like, man, I do not know if I ever was hey before, ”said his teammate Christian Braun with a smile. “Down 15 in the national championship game? I was definitely never there before.”
At the end of the night, the Jayhawks were somewhere else where they had not been for long – standing on a podium at the center court, blue confetti at their feet after being crowned national champions.
The rich lore of Kansas basketball, where the last two champions are bathed in divine light – Danny Manning and the miracle, and Mario Chalmers ‘miracle 3-pointer – has society in full faith after the Jayhawks’ biggest comeback in the NCAA Championship game history. beat North Carolina, 72-69, in front of 69,423 fans.
The Jayhawks, who were once left with 16 points, battled one late blow after another from North Carolina, which left everything – including the contents of Puff Johnson’s stomach – in court.
Kansas eventually had to survive a hail of last-second 3-point attempts, the last just before Buzzer of Caleb Love, who saved North Carolina twice in the tournament, then the Jayhawks ran to court to celebrate. McCormack, Brown and others shout at their fans.
It was easy to understand the excitement.
The perpetual Snakebit Jayhawks, who have a long history of NCAA disappointments – even two years ago when they were ranked No. 1 in the country before the pandemic ended the tournament – have put these regrets behind them. It was fitting, in a sense, that they were led by McCormack, whose career arches reflected their unequal tournament assets.
The win was the Jayhawks ‘first championship since 2008, when they crossed in overtime along Memphis – sent there by Chalmers’ Buzzer-Beat 3-pointer.
“It would be special to win, no matter,” said coach Bill Self, who added that he was overwhelmed and out. “But to win when your team had to fight back and forth like they did and show that a lot of grit does this from the charts.”
“I thought this was good,” he continued. “And this is a lot better than I thought it would be.”
Self became the first Kansas coach to win more than one title, distinguished among some of the game’s renowned leaders, from James Naismith – who is credited with inventing the game – to Phog Allen, after whom Allen Fieldhouse is named is, and Larry Brown, who is the only coach to win both the NCAA and NBA championships.
Whether Kansas will be able to defend its crown is less certain. The NCAA’s glacial lawsuit may come after a final verdict in a case stemming from a federal bribery scandal, from which five Level 1 charges against the self program were dropped.
Oklahoma State was suspended from this tournament that year, and Arizona, Louisville and Auburn imposed self-imposed bans in the fallout from the same scandal. None of them were charged with violations as seriously as Kansas was.
Those questions, however, are for another day.
On Monday night, there was another spectacular end to a Final Four under the Superdome roof – and for the first time in three years, the festivities were supported by a boisterous stadium full of fans. Often this squad was a blessing for North Carolina, who won here in 1982 when Michael Jordan dropped a winger, and again in 1993, when Chris Webber of Michigan called a timeout, he did not have to claim a Tar Heels victory. seal.
The Tar Heels, who survived an epic battle with the Duke on Saturday, have sent their rival coach, Mike Krzyzewski, into retirement, appearing to have set off another fire as they fell back from an early deficit and threatened Kansas to run by the court.
Sophomore point guard RJ Davis aborted the Kansas defense, center Armando Bacot put McCormack and his backup Mitch Lightfoot in foul trouble, and the Tar Heels stormed to a 40-25 lead at the break.
It’s fair to ask if Kansas Pins got stuck in a voodoo doll when its opponents fell. Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner injured a knee 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 a win over Houston, and his defense would have helped against Ochai Agbaji, who scored his first six 3-pointers against the Wildcats in their national semifinals.
Then, late in North Carolina’s victory over Duke Saturday night, Bacot fell to the ground and had to be helped to the bench. He came back a little cautiously, but called out on Sunday. “My status for tomorrow is ‘I play,'” Bacot said, adding, “My right leg needs to be cut off so I don’t play.”
Bacot played heroically – not quite himself, limping from time to time, but still toe-to-toe and box-to-box with McCormack, two heavyweights tipping out of the opening.
After the track, after Kansas stole the lead, North Carolina also struggled against rashness. Brady Manek fell on his head from an early elbow, love rolled his ankle and Johnson – after coming in to take charge – fell to his knees shortly afterwards and broke down in court.
North Carolina, however, was prepared to survive it all.
Davis pulled the Tar Heels back from a 6-point deficit to even pull up to 57 when he shot Johnson, who hit a 3-point from the corner in front of his own bench. And Manek put North Carolina back, 69-68, as he tipped in Love’s drive into the basket with 1:41 left.
McCormack responded as he collected his own rebound and put the ball inside. Then it’s Bacot’s turn. He shot 15 points and pulled down 15 rebounds – becoming the first player to score six doubles in a single tournament – and used his athleticism to interrupt McCormack. After pulling McCormack up on the key, Bacot drove to his right, running through the lane. But as he approached the basket, Bacot gave up his tender right ankle. He landed on the floor with a blow, recovering from pain after turning the ball to the left with 50 seconds left.
Bacot picked himself up and threw himself on the defensive end of the court until the officials whispered the game dead so he could leave.
“I thought I really got the angle I wanted,” Bacot said. “I thought it was a simple basket. And then I just rolled my ankles as I went up.
Without Bacot in the game, Kansas, with a 70-69 lead, went straight to McCormack, who felt his way past Manek to put the Jayhawks ahead 72-69, with 22 seconds left. He finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
North Carolina pushed the ball forward and Love missed a 3-pointer, but Davis grabbed the rebound and shot Johnson, who missed another Trey. Manek grabbed another rebound – the 24th offensive for North Carolina – but threw the ball out of bounds.
Even with that turnover, the Tar Heels got a recovery when Dajuan Harris caught the inbound pass and just went out of bounds for Kansas. North Carolina set up a game for Manek, but he failed and was not up. Instead, the ball went to the love that saved Tar Heels against UCLA with some late 3-pointers and made another one that the Duke lowered on Saturday night.
But this one, harassed and harassed, was short of brand.
A moment later, the Jayhawks were knocked off the bench – this time, they all laughed.