It’s a little after 11:00 Sunday night as I begin this post. I just watched the replay of today’s Midwest Regional final, or at least the last five or so minutes of regulation plus overtime, on the CBS Sports Network. I’ve been texting, emailing, and reading coverage of that game since it wrapped up in real time. I’ve just poured some celebratory bourbon. What better time than now to start putting words down about my Jayhawks getting back to the Final Four?
Man, what a freaking great game. No, I would not be saying that if KU had lost. Which would make me a hypocrite. All year I’ve been saying that if KU made it to the second weekend of the tournament, I would be fine with however the season ended. And for years I’ve said I just once wanted KU to play well in a tournament loss. If Grayson Allen’s last-second shot in regulation had crawled in – and how in the hell did that not go in??? – if I was a man of my word I would have been fine with the result. KU played a fabulous game and it came down to a tough-ass shot dropping at the very end.
Nope. I would have been devastated. That game would have utterly crushed me. It would have passed VCU as the worst March loss ever for KU. I would have fallen to the floor and not moved until S came down and asked me if I was ok sometime Monday morning.
Why the change in reaction? Because KU had that damn game won and then seemingly pissed it away. They had two seven point leads in the second half. At the 7:30 mark they had a five-point lead, got a steal, and had Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk behind the defense for an easy layup. Devonté Graham tossed the ball up court, but too far and it rolled out of bounds. During the TV timeout that immediately followed, I had flashbacks to the 1996 regional final against Syracuse. With KU leading by 5 or 6 at about the same point, Billy Thomas got behind the Syracuse D on a break and had a dead, unguarded layup. He put the ball off his foot out-of-bounds and Syracuse came back and won. Fuck me.
KU went through a four-minute stretch where they missed six straight 3-point shots. Only one of those was guarded. Devonte, for some reason, hoisted up a 30-footer early in the shot clock. Svi missed two where there was no one within five feet of him. With a minute left, down three, Malik pulled up from 25-feet and missed. I fell back into the couch and felt a pain in my stomach. The game was over.
Only it wasn’t. Silvio De Sousa nudged Wendell Carter Jr. just far enough from the basket to force his shot to come up short and grabbed the rebound. Devonte juked Gary Trent Jr, spun away, nearly fell, was likely fouled by Trevon Duval, but somehow tossed the ball out to Svi, who calmly took one dribble and stepped into the biggest shot of his life.
Bang, tie game!
It felt a little like the legendary Chop play run at the end of regulation in San Antonio 10 years ago, when Sherron Collins was likely fouled by Derrick Rose but somehow got the ball to Mario Chalmers as he was falling down. You all know what happened next.
Still, KU had to survive Grayson’s hero-boy attempts.
Then it was time for Malik to shine. A personal 13–9 run put the game away.
He had a lot of help though. For a team that has been maligned over-and-over for not being good on defense, KU made a ton of huge defensive plays late in the game. They rebounded their asses off all day, somehow grabbing 15 more boards than Duke, who normally out-rebound their opponents by 10.
Svi has not guarded anyone in the four years he’s been at KU. Somehow he limited Marvin Bagley III from being the decisive player. Svi, the guy that teams mercilessly isolated and drove for buckets or fouls just a year ago. Dude played his ass off. The tying shot was just the icing on the cake for him.
That effort highlighted what a great game this was for Bill Self. The last two years we’ve heard how Self is always tight in the Elite 8, thus his teams play tight, thus they lose more often than not. He had an incredible game plan. He made great adjustments throughout the game. This was his finest March effort ever.
But the players deserve the credit. It would not matter how great Self’s game plan was if they didn’t execute it. Svi slowing Bagley, Lagerald Vick continuing his hot streak, the entire team committing to rebounding, the new approach to attacking a zone, De Sousa out-playing Duke’s bigs in overtime. All of that was because of execution. They could have easily screwed all that up, or just missed shots all day, and then we’d be talking about another Bill Self collapse in the Elite 8 and how Coach K coached circles around him.
But it worked and the Jayhawks are going back to San Antonio, the site of Self’s biggest triumph. Waiting is Villanova, the team that knocked KU out two years ago in the Elite 8. The Wildcats are already 5.5 point favorites. That’s great. They will have KU’s attention. As Self said today after the game, he thought his players were very much focused on beating Duke, not worrying about the implications of the win. I don’t think KU will be looking ahead next Saturday night.
So now another week to keep healing Udoka Azubuike. Another week to try to figure out what’s up with Devonte. I think he has to be injured; he’s looked like a completely different player the last three games, bricking shots, getting roasted on defense, making uncharacteristic turnovers. I’m hopefully it’s something nagging that will be better by Saturday night and not something we’ll hear about him having surgery for in two weeks. A full week to prep for likely the most complete and best team in the country after beating the most talented team in the country.
Plenty of time to work up nerves and angst about that. Tonight, I know this group gets their own banner, something a KU team hasn’t done since T-Rob, Tyshawn, Elijah, T-Rel, and Withey got their squad to New Orleans.
Rock Chalk, bitches!
- I really wish while watching the replay I could also hear a replay of all the things I was screaming during the actual game. Here’s a rough list of the things I yelled: “Yes!” “YES!” “YEEEESSSSSS!!!!!” “Come on, D!” “Would you get a smart shot, please?” “Could you please stop missing wide-open looks?” “That is totally a foul!” “No way is that a foul!” “White ball!” “YYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEESSSSS!” “MALIKKKKKKK” You get the picture. ↩
- The Hoops Gods make their presence known! No way were they letting Grayson get his team to the Final Four after all his nonsense over the years. That’s the only rational explanation for his shot hitting the rim five times, and being inside the ring twice, yet somehow falling off. ↩
- K is the greatest coach of all time. Letting Allen isolate over and over late in the game was a gift to KU. Duke took their lead by running screen and rolls and getting the ball to their bigs on the move. KU had no chance in those sets. But K let Grayson keep chucking. A grateful KU fan base thanks you, Coach K! ↩
- And also his worst March defeat, that dreaded VCU game in 2011. ↩