So sweet: Jayhawks head back to Sweet 16 with 75-56 rout of UNLV.
OMAHA, Neb. (AP)—Good luck stopping Kansas.
The top-seeded Jayhawks can beat you on the inside with Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson. They can flip the ball to NBA-caliber Brandon Rush on the wing. They can kick it out to Mario Chalmers, or send Russell Robinson darting through the lane.
“We have the talent to be as good a team as we’ve had,” coach Bill Self said, “or better.”
Capping off two days of blowouts in Omaha, Kansas pulled away from UNLV in the second half and romped to a 75-56 victory Saturday at the NCAA’s Midwest Regional, another emphatic team effort by a deep, talented group out to win the proud program’s first national title in 20 years.
Chalmers led the way with 17 points, but he had plenty of help. Robinson scored 13, Rush 12, Sherron Collins 10, Arthur 9 and Jackson 8. Defensively, they ganged up to hold UNLV to the worst shooting percentage by a Kansas opponent this season, 27 percent in a 12-of-45 brickfest.
“We have a nice blend of power, inside scoring, guys who can run, quickness on the perimeter to break you down, guys who can shoot off the kick-out,” Self said. “I do think we have a really good team. I won’t say it’s the best team we’ve had. I’ll wait and see how it plays out.”
So far, it’s playing out just fine. The Jayhawks advanced to the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight years, though they clearly have higher goals. Making the Final Four? Nope, not good enough either.
Only a national championship will do.
“It’s good to move on,” Chalmers said, “but we still have four more games to go. We’ve got to go win next weekend, and then worry about the weekend after that.”
On the opening weekend, there was no drama in Nebraska, where all went pretty much according to plan. Kansas State was the only lower-seeded team to win in six games, and there was no chance for a buzzer-beater unless the NCAA changed the rules to allow a 14-point shot.
The closest Omaha margin was 13, and the Jayhawks (33-3) sure did their part to make sure everyone got a head start on their partying in the Old Market. They blew out No. 16 Portland State 85-61 in the opener, then handled the eighth-seeded Runnin’ Rebels (27-8) with nearly as much ease.
The first half was close—Kansas led by only five midway through—but that was just putting off the inevitable.
Lon Kruger knew it.
“We hung in there a while against a very good Kansas club,” the UNLV coach said. “They’re not just a talented group. They play well, they play unselfishly, they play hard. They’re very deserving of that 1 seed.”
The Runnin’ Rebels barely had enough players to finish the game. With only 10 guys in uniform to begin with, they had one starter, Joe Darger, foul out with more than 9 1/2 minutes remaining; another, Rene Rougeau, quickly followed him to the bench with his fifth.
“It was very frustrating, seeing my team I played with all year out there struggling and knowing I could be out there helping them if I wasn’t in foul trouble,” Darger said. “We just didn’t have enough bodies.”
Especially against a team such as Kansas. UNLV’s offense basically consisted of 6-footer Wink Adams driving the lane against the taller Jayhawks, looking to draw a foul and hit the free throws. He scored a career-high 25 points—hitting 15 of 17 at the line—but Curtis Terry was his only teammate in double figures with 12.
The Rebels not only shot abysmally, they were outrebounded 36-26 and couldn’t stop the Jayhawks. Kansas made 58 percent on a 29-of-50 performance that included plenty of dunks and layups.
The Jayhawks advanced to the regional semifinals at Detroit’s Ford Field, where they will face either 12th-seeded Villanova or No. 13 Siena, who meet Sunday in Tampa after pulling off two of the four upsets on the Sunshine State’s opening day.
The average margin in Omaha was 17 points.
“I thought we did a phenomenal job on defense,” said 6-foot-11 Sasha Kaun, who provides another weapon off the bench. “We got after them pretty good.”
Kansas reached the regional final last year before losing to UCLA, one win away from the Final Four. The Jayhawks haven’t won a national championship since 1988, but they’ve got a reminder right on the bench. Danny Manning, who led the last title team almost single-handedly, is now an assistant coach to Self.
UNLV came up short in its bid to reach the round of 16 for the second year in a row.
The Jayhawks stretched their lead to double figures for the first time on Robinson’s lay-in just over 3 minutes into the second half. UNLV got it back to five, but Robinson put it away with a 3-pointer from the corner with 10 minutes remaining.
Robinson also did plenty of damage penetrating the lane.
“We wanted to relieve some of the pressure,” he said. “I was able to get to the rim and get easy baskets.”
Kansas started slow, missing its first three shots and turning it over twice. Jackson broke the Jayhawks drought with a jumper about 3 1/2 minutes into the game, the first of nine straight points by the Jayhawks.
But the Jayhawks could never push the margin higher than six points in the opening half.
Despite shooting 8-for-27 in the first 20 minutes, the Runnin’ Rebels were still in the game. They went nearly six minutes without a field goal in one stretch, missing seven straight shots, but made 10 of 12 free throws to trail 34-29 at the break.
The Rebels finished 27 of 34 at the line, accounting for almost half their points.
It wasn’t nearly enough.