New Orleans – Lagging 15 in the first half, Kansas returned to escape North Carolina 72-69 in an exciting game of momentum to win the National Championship game Monday ahead of 69,423 at the Superdome.
The Jayhawks won their fourth and second National Championship under coach Bill Self.
The comeback was one of the biggest ever in a national title game. The Jayhawks emerged as a completely different team in the second half, increasing their defensive pressure and perfecting their high-octane attacking rhythm to control the momentum of the game.
“I don’t know I’ve ever had a team flip the script like we did,” Self said. “To win when your team had to fight back and come back the way they did and show that a lot of grit makes this off the charts.”
If the Tar Heels (29-10) attempted a knockout in their offensive clinic in the first inning, Kansas (34-6) would have trounced all of the second half on a tight end. The Jayhawks used a 31-10 run and made a 56-50 lead midway through the second half from three consecutive huge plays – Ochai Agbaji’s three-pointer, Remy Martin’s three-pointer, then Jalen Wilson and 1.
But North Carolina wasn’t about to quietly come out, putting on an exciting ending. Two free throws by Brady Manek with 3:06 left the match knot at 65, and a tip by Manek with 1:41 left gave UNC a 69-68 lead.
David McCormack, the KU senior (15 points), was the champ. His rebound with the left gave 1:21 a lead for KU 70-69 with just over a minute remaining, and the Jayhawks bucket gave the lead forever by 22 seconds. A seemingly expensive spin with four seconds remaining by Kansas’ Daguan Harris returned the ball with a equalizing chance, but UNC’s Caleb Love was unable to convert with a three-air pointer.
“It hurts to get this far and finish, like everything we’ve been through,” said Love, the star of Duke’s semi-final win when he had 28 points. He scored only 13 points in a 1-for-8 shot from over the arc against Kansas.
KS got production from its supporting team in this game, with Wilson leading the Jayhawks in scoring with 15 points and Martin (14 points) coming off the bench with a number of clutch players, including four three-pointers. Agbaji (12 points) was named the Final Four player of the year, while McCormack had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
This isn’t the first time that Kansas has completely transformed in the second half of this tournament, having fallen behind Miami (Florida) by six times in the first half of the Elite Eight and then back to top the Hurricanes by 26.
It’s been a long road to Self to get Kansas back to the net in April, as she won her first national title since 2008 despite winning 16 NCAA regular season titles. Some of the best Kansas teams ever under Self have failed to win titles, including the 2020 team that was favored to win it all before COVID canceled the season. Prior to the tournament match, Self acknowledged the high expectations due to the storied Jayhawks show and die-hard fan base.
“We’ve had some really great seasons and some great teams coming up a little bit later,” he said. “And I think when you have as many good teams as we had – in most places, winning one national championship would be a huge achievement. I think as many good teams as we have, the team is not enough.”
North Carolina’s top players, Armando Paco (15 points, 15 rebounds and Love), had ankle injuries to where UNC wasn’t at his best, especially in the lower extension. The 8th-ranked Tar Heels started in March as a bubbly team uncertain of making it to the NCAA Championship before finishing as a national runner-up here in April. Under first-year coach Hubert Davis, the players say the future remains bright.
“It wouldn’t be the last time you’d watch this show here,” Bakout said.
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