Monday, March 31, 2008

More on the Final Four

Reading all of these articles really makes me smile. It's so solid. It just keeps getting better. Now we get to play against Roy Williams? I am a member of the Roy Williams fan club. The is a big faction of the KU fan base that is anti-Roy and still harbor major resentment towards him. Not me. He did what he had to do. He has never once bashed Kansas. In fact, nobody shows more love for the school than he does. I promise you, this week, 100 times you will hear the following from him: "For 15 years, I gave my heart, my body, and my soul to that school." But as Ryan Greene from the Lawrence Journal-World put it:

"Now, of course, it’s time for Roy Williams to face the Kansas music. You’d have to think he’ll have much more pressure on him from the media in the upcoming week than Bill Self will because, first, he’s the only one with ties to both schools and Self is just more of a cool customer in the public arena, while Williams has a tendency to provide the emotional moment. Either way, KU fans now have what they truly want Saturday night.”

Two quick thoughts before the article rundown: Sasha Kaun saved the Jayhawks yesterday. Seriously. I have so much respect for him. For three years, he seemed to regress and not be able to figure out to do with his thick frame. After being benched early in the year, he embraced his role as a reserve and continued to get better. There was no better illustration of that improvement than yesterday. He was 6-6 from the field, led KU with 13 points, and grabbed seven boards. “I just wanted to play good," Kaun said. "I was committed to trying to give everything I could to the team. I thought we had a good mindset about everything...It was just a sense of urgency that it might be over. We had to step up and get some good possessions...I’ve been waiting for this game for so long to go to the FInal Four, and last year we came up short, it’s an unbelievable feeling right now.”

Credit Bill Self for going to the Box and One on Stephen Curry in the second half yesterday. Other than the three he hit with 58 seconds left, KU defenders held him down for the final 10 minutes of the game. The junk defense didn't let Curry get the screens he needed to get free. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins all took turns harrassing him.

Kansas-Davidson Game was Great, but Less Fullfilling - Jason Whitlock, KC Star

When it was over, your sigh of relief felt a bit empty, a little less satisfying than you’d imagined. You were happy the team you love escaped, but you were unimpressed with the route the Jayhawks climbed to safety.

Kansas’ cakewalk to the River Walk turned bittersweet on Sunday.

You were hard-pressed to find any evidence inside Ford Field that the champion of the Big 12 is superior to the champion of the Southern Conference. Kansas’ biggest lead was six points, and the boys from the tiny Carolina school of 1,700 students controlled the tempo, the action, from start to finish. With 16.8 seconds left, they had possession and the ball in the hands of the tournament’s best player, shooting star Stephen Curry.

Credit Kansas for denying Curry the game’s final shot. Other than that, thank the basketball gods for KU’s good fortune.

A trip to the Final Four should never taste sour, especially when you’ve knocked at its door four times and been denied, but Bill Self had the damnedest time explaining his emotions Sunday.

•“This game has a different feel to it than a lot of other games,” he said.

•“I don’t want to say we played poorly, because that takes away from Davidson,” he said.

•“Our guys didn’t handle it great, but we were tough enough to get the win, which is all that matters,” he said.

•And finally, Self said: “I would say instead of jubilation, it was probably more relief. You know, you picture the way you are winning a big game like that. You make a shot. You celebrate…. This was not one of those deals. I just wanted to make sure that I hurried up and shook hands and the officials left the court, so they couldn’t put any more time back on the clock.”

Jayhawks Shaky Play Surprises Self - Joe Posnanski, KC Star

Pressure will do strange things to men. The pressure on this Jayhawks team was immense. First, none of them had ever been to a Final Four. The seniors had lost in the first round twice, they had been beaten down by UCLA in the Elite Eight last year — they knew the score.

“I really feel like without a win today,” Self would say, “their careers would be incomplete.”

Second, they were playing America’s darling — a team that seemed to be touched by magic this whole tournament. Everyone was rooting for Davidson. Third, this was the last regional final — and the first three No. 1 seeds had already made it into the tournament. If Kansas lost, then the Jayhawks alone would be seen as a No. 1 failure.

And fourth, probably the most important factor, everyone wanted so much to win this game for Self. Nobody wanted to see him go through the suffering of another Elite Eight defeat — especially to a tiny and feisty No. 10 seed like Davidson. Self is a good guy. Everyone likes him.

Players respect him. Nobody wanted to see him lose again.

Feel Good Story of the Year Ends with KU, Self Headed to the Final Four - Pat Forde,

But as America sagged over the demise of its endearing underdog, a freshly unburdened Bill Self heaved himself up from his knees on the sideline. The Kansas coach looked briefly into the stands and blew a gust of air through his cheeks.

As one Kansas staffer said, "It looked like 400 pounds of pressure had just left his body."

Self had been asked a day earlier what the emotion would be upon winning and reaching his first Final Four. He said probably joy, then acknowledged that there would be some relief, as well.

Given the way this went down, relief won in a landslide.

"I would say instead of jubilation, it was probably more relief," Self said. "You picture winning a big game like that, you make a shot, you celebrate, or something happens and you're able to go congratulate all your coaches and your players. This was not one of those deals.

"I just wanted to make sure that I hurried up and shook hands and the officials left the court so they couldn't put any more time back on the clock."

Self Feels Sense of Relief After Davidson Scare - Jeff Goodman, Fox

Bill Self would have been crucified. The fans in Lawrence would have gladly pushed him out the door to return to Oklahoma State — for the $3 million or so per year that billionaire Boone Pickens is reportedly willing to toss around to lure Self back to his alma mater.

It wouldn't have mattered that Self took the Jayhawks to their third Elite Eight in five seasons.
The whispers had gotten louder. Self could recruit against just about anyone, but was he a big-time X's and O's guy?

He had a pair of first-round exits on his resume in his five postseason appearances — and this year's road couldn't have been paved any smoother.

A walk-over Portland State. Then an overachieving UNLV team in the second round. Villanova, the final at-large team in the tournament and a No. 12 seed, in the Sweet 16.

Then No. 10 Davidson in the regional finals.

A Final Four is the measuring stick for those in Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk-land. The Jayhawks had been to a dozen of them, but won just twice — with the last coming 20 years ago when Danny Manning led them to the national championship.

Well, Self has finally silenced the skeptics who questioned his coaching ability with a Final Four appearance, courtesy of a down-to-the-last-shot, 59-57 victory against Davidson.

"I was nervous the whole time," Self admitted.

The Big Stop - Stewart Mandel,

The play was called "Flat," short for flat ball-screen. Under normal circumstances, Richards handles the point and Curry flies around the floor bouncing off screens, looking for his opening, but "the amount of time left was an issue," said Curry. "Usually I have 30 to 35 seconds to fight through screens."

The goal was to draw a big man out to the top of the key, allowing Curry to drive, pop a three or kick to the open man. But Kansas is 35-3 first and foremost because of its perimeter defense. With the Jayhawks' season on the line, it was only fitting that they prevailed by stopping the hottest shooter in the country, putting four guards (Rush, Collins, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson) on the floor so that when Rush got screened off Curry, as was the plan, another guard, Collins, was right there to pick him up.

"It kind of defeated the purpose of the play," said Curry.

It was also emblematic of Curry's entire night. Though he finished with an impressive 25 points, 20 of them came in the game's first 22 minutes. In the second half, his open looks started disappearing, his shots looked increasingly rushed and off the mark. Defenders like Robinson and Rush were never more than a step away from him. Curry would finish just 9-of-25 from the field.

Kaun Inspires Hunted - Tom Keegan, Lawrence Journal-World

And through it all, there was Kaun, the least offensively gifted of the nine players who appeared in the game for Kansas, clapping his hands to demand the ball, tossing bodies aside to get into position for rebounds, challenging so many shots and blocking one, not looking anything but energized by the heat of the moment.

Kansas played a terrific defensive game, most notably on the final possession, and made superstar Stephen Curry work so hard for his 25 shots. Still, KU needed all Kaun’s field goals to fall for that effort not to go down as a footnote swallowed by tales of failure. Kaun contributed 13 points and six rebounds and shot 6-of-6 from the field, 1-of-3 from the line.
His offensive output came in handy because Davidson reserve Bryant Barr evoked bad memories of Texas Tech’s Darryl Dora and Marchello Vealy of Oral Roberts, lesser-known players for whom the basket grew so large in victories against Kansas.

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