“Faith that the thing can be done is essential to any great achievement.”
The Jayhawks certainly had faith that magical evening, bursting to a 40-12 lead with 6:28 remaining before halftime, including an 18-0 run powered by a relentless defense.
“That’s about as good as I’ve seen from us,” Self said after his Jayhawks advanced to the national title game with a 84-66 whipping over UNC. “Best 15 (minutes) I’ve ever had anybody play because you’re playing the No. 1 seed in the tournament on the biggest stage. ... To start the game, I felt like instead of having 10 hands out there, it felt like we had 14 or 16. Guys were all after every ball.”
Now, four years later, Kansas will take on North Carolina again in the Elite Eight today in St. Louis, Mo. And the Jayhawks will need a similar effort and passion to defeat Williams’ crew if they want to be one of the last four teams standing in New Orleans next weekend.
Who knows what inspirational quote Self will give the team before the game, but the one from Carruthers might again be appropriate. After all, this Jayhawk squad has had faith all year they could defy the odds and make the Final Four. Despite losing four starters, including two lottery picks in Markieff and Marcus Morris, KU has sacrificed and become a team with different players stepping up when it counts.
Of course, it’s been Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor who’ve stepped up the most. But it's also been Travis Releford. And Conner Teahan. And Elijah Johnson. Then it was the heroic effort from Jeff Withey against North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 on Friday, turning in one of the most dominating defensive performances by a Jayhawk in NCAA history with a career-high 10 blocked shots while altering several more and changing the complexion of the game.
No, Withey or any of his teammates were a McDonald’s All-American. In fact, this is a team without any Mickey D’s for the first time since the inception of the McDonald’s team in 1977 (Greg Dreiling was a McDonald’s All-American on the 1982-83 team, but redshirted that season after transferring from Wichita State).
KU will now be facing a team in UNC which has seven Mickey D’s. While Kansas loses that battle of burgers on paper, don’t underestimate its talent. The Jayhawks actually have four future NBA players in Robinson, Taylor, Johnson and Withey.
Maryland, which has been the only team since the inception of the McDonald’s team to win the national championship without any McDonald’s All-Americans, also had four future NBA players on that 2002 squad— Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon.
KU not only has talent led by Robinson — a leading candidate for National Player of the Year — but it’s a team which believes in each other, their own skills, and their leader, Bill Self. At Media Day back in October, Teahan talked about just how good KU could be if they bought into Self’s principles and became a consummate team.
“There’s basketball talent everywhere,” Teahan said. “If you can get some people to come together as a team, a team can really achieve anything, especially with the players we have here. It’s going to depend on how well we buy into the system, believe in coach Self, believe in each other because we have a great team here if we want to be a great team. If we set our minds to it and not let anything get in our way — no distractions— then the opportunities are limitless.”
“The opportunities are limitless” when you have talent, chemistry and perhaps above all — faith. You don’t come from 10 points behind in the second half against Purdue in the Round of 32 when you hadn’t played well to to win that game without faith. And you certainly don’t rally from a 19-point second half-deficit against a powerhouse Missouri team in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 25 to win without faith.
Even with two woeful shooting performances the last two games against Purdue and North Carolina State (the Jayhawks shot just 35.7 percent from the field and a dismal 18.4 percent from beyond the arc in both wins), KU prevailed, a sign of a battle-tested team which relies on defense, has each other’s back, and refuses to lose.
For the Jayhawks, they truly believe “faith that the thing can be done is essential to any great achievement.”
Like beating former KU coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels today and advancing to the school’s 14th Final Four.