NEW ORLEANS -- A sea of blue. Kentucky blue. Kansas blue. That's what the Superdome will look like for Monday night's NCAA title game after the Kansas Jayhawks wore down Ohio State 64-62 Saturday night to join top-ranked UK in the final.
The Wildcats topped Louisville 69-61 in the first semifinal as 73,361 -- the second largest crowd in Final Four history -- cheered.
Nor will this merely be a rematch of the November contest at Madison Square Garden that Kentucky won by 10 points. UK-KU will reprise one of the more thrilling championship-game coaching matchups in recent history, Bill Self's Jayhawks having clipped current UK coach John Calipari's Memphis Tigers in overtime.
And just to make sure everyone knows how much Kansas forward Thomas Robinson (19 points, eight rebounds) would like revenge after losing almost every player of the year award to UK freshman Anthony Davis, he told CBS late Saturday, "We want it," when asked about the rematch.
The first half was all Buckeyes, however. Led by William Buford's eight points, Ohio State hit 5 of 10 3-pointers and five of six free throws and surprisingly blocked four KU shots while the taller Jayhawks were swatting only two of theirs.
Without Jared Sullinger in uniform for the first game it had been far different, the Jayhawks prevailing in Lawrence in mid-December by a 78-67 score. But Sullinger had seven points, four rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in the first 20 minutes of this one, numbers to underscore why he returned to school for his sophomore season.
"I wanted to come back to win a national championship," he has said on numerous occasions this season.
But Kansas had its own reasons for reaching the Final Four. Such as a stunning loss to Northern Iowa two years ago as a No. 1 seed. Such as last year's disappointing Elite Eight failure against Virginia Commonwealth.
So even as they fell behind by double figures for more than seven minutes of the opening half and trailed by nine (34-25) at intermission, the Jayhawks kept hunting and pecking for an opening to close the gap.
With 14:02 to play in the final period, an Elijah Johnson drive tied it after a bad miss from Sullinger.
With 6:02 to go, though, a Buford dunk on a breakaway moved Ohio State back in front by five at 53-48. Two Sullinger free throws 40 seconds later extended the lead to 55-49.
Its offense back to running smoothly, Ohio State appeared to be in control. Yet Kansas wouldn't surrender. The Jayhawks regained the lead at 56-55 on two Travis Releford free throws with 2:48 to go.
Eleven seconds later, it was OSU's turn to go back in front on two free throws from Deshaun Thomas, who had been in foul trouble for most of the night.
Then Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft -- whom many rate the nation's best backcourt defender -- stole a KU pass and hit a layup to move Ohio State ahead by three.
It would not end there, however. A Tyshawn Taylor drive and two more Releford free throws put KU on top by three at 62-59, and Johnson added a drive after a Withey block of Buford.
"We were awful in the first half," Self said. "But somehow we keep finding ways to win these games."
Now there's just one more game to win for both KU's Jayhawks and UK's Wildcats.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...