Beating Williams especially sweet for KU fans

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

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SAN ANTONIO – Eight hundred miles away, they climbed on top of cars.

Others walked out on their tabs as they darted out of bars and onto Massachusetts Street, where an ocean of Kansas fans snaked throughout the roads and sidewalks.

Forget bedtime. Parents arrived at midnight carrying 3-year-olds on their shoulders. Nineteen frat boys piled into the bed of a pickup truck and waved a Jayhawks flag. Police turned the other way while folks chugged beer in the streets.

"This is better than Mardi Gras," said student body vice president Ray Wittlinger, yelling into his cell phone. "All the rules are out the window. You can drink in the street, you can take your clothes off and you can scream and cheer all you want – as long as you're safe.

"I'm telling you, it's absolutely insane."

Celebrations like the one that engulfed Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday night and early Sunday usually only happen when teams win national championships. For scores of Kansas fans, though, what happened in Saturday's semifinal was even better.

Brandon Rush scored 25 points and Sherron Collins made two huge plays down the stretch as Kansas catapulted into Monday's title game with an 84-66 victory over Roy Williams.

Make no mistake: That's what Saturday's game was all about. The official opponent may have been North Carolina, but ask almost any Kansas fan to identify the real nemesis at the Alamodome, and they'd have pointed toward that gray-haired, doggone man in the suit on the opposing sideline.

The one who abandoned them five years ago.

Williams coached at Kansas for 15 seasons before leaving for North Carolina, his alma mater, in 2003. Jayhawks supporters spent the past five years steaming over the jilt, many of them cursing Williams and holding out hope that, one day, Kansas would have an opportunity to exact revenge.

That moment came Saturday night. In a fashion no one dreamt was possible, Kansas capitalized.

"They hit us between the eyes," North Carolina's Wayne Ellington said.

And it's not like the Jayhawks bothered to put on gloves. Instead they pulled no punches during a stretch that Kansas coach Bill Self labeled "the best 15 minutes of basketball" one of his teams had ever played.

Kansas led 40-12 with five minutes remaining before intermission. North Carolina shot 29 percent in the opening half and couldn't have hit sand if it fell off a camel.

The Tar Heels made a valiant, second-half run and pulled within five, 64-59, with five minutes remaining. But a three-pointer by Collins ignited a 16-2 Kansas run that ended the game – and, hopefully – the negativity and insults that have been hurled at Williams since his departure.

"I hope it is set aside now," Williams said. "I hope it goes away forever."

Williams said he plans to remain in San Antonio for two more days so he can cheer on the Jayhawks in Monday's national title game against Memphis.

Self certainly doesn't sound as if he'd be opposed to the support. Williams and Self had a phone conversation a few days before Saturday's game and "buried the hatchet." They may not be best friends, but it's clear the coaches have a newfound respect for one another after the 15-minute talk.

"There is no jealously and no animosity between Coach Williams and myself, at least on this end," Self said. "To everybody else, it was a big deal. Hopefully, for everybody's sake, that's over now. That's done. Hopefully we can all move forward."

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons now to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past.

Kansas boasts one of college basketball's biggest success stories in Rush, seasoned playmakers in Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson and emerging stars such as Collins and Cole Aldrich.

Best of all, the Jayhawks have Self, who needs just one victory to accomplish what Williams never could in Lawrence. Kansas is the deepest and most talented team in the country. It can beat Memphis and win the national title for the first time since 1988.

Still – amid the throng of fans who stood in the streets of Lawrence on Saturday night chanting "One more win! One more win!' – you can bet there are plenty of folks who would say that beating Roy was good enough.

"Tonight North Carolina fans are experiencing the same kind of heartache Roy put us through for years and years and years," said Wittlinger, screaming into his phone as horns honked in the background. "He got them into a big game – and then he choked.

"There are about 30,000 people out here, and I don't know of anyone that wasn't happy to see him lose."

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