UNC vs. Kansas a true blue blood title game

Published 11:53 pm Saturday, April 2, 2022

By JOHN MARSHALL

AP Basketball Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — North Carolina spoiled Mike Krzyzewski’s fairytale ending with a gritty performance in an unforgettable rivalry game. Kansas went on a 3-point shooting spree to take down a fellow blue blood, putting coach Bill Self in position to win the second title he’s waited so long for.

One of the bluest Final Fours ever is headed toward an epic finish: North Carolina and Kansas.

“You come to Kansas for big games, but you don’t come to Kansas to play in the Elite Eight,” said Kansas guard Christian Braun, who had 10 points against Villanova. “You don’t come to Kansas to play in the Final Four. You come to play for a championship.”

So does North Carolina.

The Tar Heels (29-9), the all-time leader with 21 Final Four appearances, followed with an epic, back-and-forth 81-77 win over rival Duke to end Coach K’s 47-year career with a loss to his biggest rival. The Jayhawks (33-6) have more wins than any team in history, up to 2,356 after beating Villanova 81-65 in the first national semifinal Saturday night.

They’ll meet Monday night in the Big (blue) Easy with a chance to add to their already-storied legacies. North Carolina will be playing for its seventh national championship. Kansas is looking for No. 4.

“I want them to celebrate tonight. I just do,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “This is a special moment for them. This is a special moment for our program. I want them to enjoy themselves. That’s important.”

The Tar Heels got their first season under Davis off to a shaky start, looking as though they weren’t even going to make the bracket. North Carolina found the right gear at the right time, though, rolling into the biggest game in Tobacco Road rivalry history.

North Carolina saved its best for next-to-last, taking down the Blue Devils 81-77 in the rivals’ first NCAA Tournament meeting in 258 all-time games.

Now the Tar Heels get a chance to add another title to the one they won under Roy Williams in 2017.

“I felt like over the last two or three years, North Carolina wasn’t relevant,” Davis said. “North Carolina should never be irrelevant.”

The Jayhawks won the 2008 title in Self’s fifth season in Lawrence, but it’s been a lot of deep title-less runs since: a loss in the championship game, two in the Final Four, five other trips to at least the Sweet 16.

The 2019-20 Jayhawks may have been Self’s best team, but they never got a chance to prove it when the pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament.

This year’s team does not have quite the same wow factor, but was one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country.

The Jayhawks flexed their inside-out game to near perfection in the national semifinals against Villanova.

David McCormack bulled his way to 25 points and led an inside game that outscored the Wildcats by 16 in the paint. Ochai Agbaji keyed the 3-point barrage, hitting 6 of 7 to score 21 points. Kansas went 13 for 24 from behind the arc, nearly doubling its 3-point shooting percentage during the regular season.

“Even after this game, even after last weekend, the weekend before that — everyone’s attitude was, on to the next one,” Agbaji said. “And not looking too far ahead at what’s going on Monday.”
Now they can. It could be epic.

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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