Kansas heads to Final Four with 80-67 win over North Carolina

Kansas heads to Final Four with 80-67 win over North Carolina

March 25th, 2012 in Local - Breaking News

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor chases a loose ball against North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller, left, during the first half of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Midwest Regional final today in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ST. LOUIS-Bill Self didn't collapse in relief this time.

The Kansas coach slapped hands with his assistant coaches, warmly shook hands with the North Carolina staff and prepared for the awards ceremony.

With its 80-67 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday, Kansas is going to the Final Four for the second time in Self's nine-year Kansas tenure, and the Jayhawks did it by playing to their identity _smothering defense.

The Tar Heels were held to 20 second-half points. They didn't score in the final 3 minutes, 58 seconds, as Kansas took off from a precarious one-point lead, and North Carolina didn't make a basket in the game's final six minutes.

Meanwhile, Kansas turned stops into transition baskets, and those will be the enduring images of this game â€" Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford flying to the basket after defensive stands.

The Jayhawks will meet Ohio State, a team they defeated in December, in the national semifinals at 7:49 p.m. Saturday in New Orleans. Kentucky and Louisville will meet in the other semifinal at 5:09, with the winners playing Monday for the title. This is Kansas's 14th Final Four in program history.

In 2008, Kansas went to its first Final Four under Self by beating Davidson when a last-second three-pointer was off. Self collapsed to the floor in relief.

Not this time. Throughout the second half, Kansas controlled the pace.

All Kansas started scored in double figures, led by Taylor's 22.

After an exhilarating first half of action, the game worked its way into the final minutes as Kansas preferred, a half-court grinder.

The first half was an offensive blur, and sitting behind the Kansas bench, former Jayhawks coach Larry Brown must have been smiling, at least inside.

The score was 47-47, an offensive show in which the Jayhawks, who had been shooting at a 39 percent clip in the tournament, had to score to keep up.

Brown had to harken back to his night of glory, the 1988 national championship victory over heavily favored Oklahoma. Kansas ran with the Sooners and went to the locker room 50-50 at the break before winning 83-79.

Both teams blistering the nets, a comfortable tempo for the Tar Heels. Not so for Kansas.

When North Carolina set up shop on the offensive end in front of the Kansas bench, Self implored his guys to defend.

But for much of the first half, the Jayhawks couldn't have stopped North Carolina with eight defenders. At one stretch, the Heels made nine straight from the field. Reserve forward James Michael McAdoo had 10 points.

Some good signs came early for Kansas. Robinson banked in a shot from the top. He later swished a three and finished the half with 14 points.

Travis Releford, who had made one three pointer in his previous nine games, knocked one down.

And although Tyshawn Taylor's deep shooting troubles continued â€" his fourth three-point miss with less than a minute remaining was an air ball from the corner â€" he knocked down three 15-foot jumpers.

Kansas needed all of them to keep up with North Carolina, which was playing without point guard Kendall Marshall, ruled out before the game because of pain in his fractured right wrist.

Also, forward John Henson missed about 10 minutes of the half getting treatment for an injured ankle. But he still scored eight points.

Kansas shot 56.3 percent for the half. North Carolina shot 63.6 percent (21 of 33).

In the second half, the Tar Heels were seven of 31 (22.6 percent) and missed all 10 three-point tries.