What Roy Williams needed was a comeback for the ages. What he got was a disappointing dose of payback -a chance to see what it feels like when Kansas breaks his heart.
The Jayhawks left their old coach in the dust Saturday night, getting 25 points and seven rebounds from Brandon Rush to stave off a ferocious comeback by North Carolina for an 84-66 victory in the national semifinals.
Trailing 40-12 late in the first half, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and the Tar Heels made a valiant rally, getting as close as five points with nine minutes left, but ran out of steam in their effort to pull off the biggest Final Four comeback ever.
Kansas moved within a win of its first national championship since 1988, the year before Williams began his storied 15-year tenure in Lawrence - one that ended when he jilted Kansas for his alma mater.
The Jayhawks will play Memphis, an earlier 78-63 winner over UCLA, in the title game Monday.
"We know we've got another step to take Monday night," Sherron Collins said. "It's going to be a great matchup. They play fast, we play fast."
Collins had two assists, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws during the decisive stretch that saw the Jayhawks (36-3) pad that five-point lead back to 15 and send the Tar Heels (36-3) into true desperation mode.
Williams stood stoically as the clock ticked down, arms folded, nothing much left he could do. Tears usually come pretty quickly after the final buzzer of the season for him, and this season ended one game short of where many thought it might.
Still, at game's end he walked to the Kansas bench and shook every player's hand, hugging many of them.
It was Bill Self who replaced Williams after the coach famously bolted for North Carolina, and this was the first chance to see them go against each other with their new teams - and on the game's biggest stage.
Hansbrough, the national player of the year, finished with 17 points and nine rebounds - a typically gutsy effort. Ellington led the Heels with 18.
But for all their effort, this game was lost early.
The basket looked as big as the Alamo for the Jayhawks, who made 12 of their first 16 shots and went on an 18-0 run for a 33-10 lead with 9:31 left.
Meanwhile, North Carolina went a stunning 9:03 without a basket and the lead got as large as 40-12. It was around then that none other than Billy Packer, the CBS analyst, said the game was over.
Not so fast.
The Tar Heels turned this into controlled chaos over the first 10 minutes of the second half, altering Kansas shots and making pretty much everything they threw up - including an Ellington 3-pointer with 9:20 left that made it 58-53 and had the Tar Heels in a frenzy.
Throughout the rally, Self called time-out after time-out - KU fans often criticized Williams for not doing the same under those circumstances - and eventually, North Carolina cooled and Kansas ran away.
Picking a Jayhawks star was as easy as closing your eyes and pointing to a name on the stat sheet.
Freshman Cole Aldrich stood out, swatting three shots in the first half and altering more after coming off the bench en route to his eight-point, seven-rebound night. His highlight came after KU missed just its fifth shot of the game, more than 10 minutes into the first half, and he outgrappled Hansbrough for a rebound that resulted in two free throws. That made it 33-10.
Darrell Arthur had three buckets and an assist in the first five minutes to start the runaway. Russell Robinson had five points, four assists, three steals and three turnovers over the first 20 minutes - what coach wouldn't love that?
The list went on, and die-hard KU fans might have deemed it their team's best performance since the 2003 Final Four, when Nick Collison helped dismantle Marquette 94-61 in the semifinals.
Two nights later, the Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in the finals. With talk swirling that Williams would be headed to Tobacco Road, he said on live TV that he "could give a (bleep) about North Carolina right now."
Two weeks later, he was wearing Carolina blue.
He got outcoached in this one, especially at the beginning, finding no solution for Kansas' somewhat surprising strategy of dumping the ball inside to Arthur, Jackson and Aldrich.
Despite the impressive comeback, the final stats painted a picture of Kansas' domination. The Jayhawks shot 53 percent from the floor and held the nation's second-leading offense to 35 percent. They had nine more rebounds, 10 more assists, six more blocks.
All that may have helped prove Williams' theory, as he tried to deflect all the talk of himself this week: That the game would be decided by the players.
The Jayhawks were simply better.
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