After a speedy first half of high scoring basketball, the pace reverted to the norm and flowed much more into the Kansas Jayhawks' hands in the second half as they pulled away from the top-seeded Tar Heels for an 80-67 victory.
As the players cut down the nets at the Edward Jones Dome, the “unfinished business” that had been often referenced in days prior was still not complete.
“We still got another goal,” redshirt junior Travis Releford said. “This isn’t it. We’re going to New Orleans.”
Senior Tyshawn Taylor, who emerged as the star on Sunday afternoon, scored 22 points despite missing on all five of his three-point attempts.
Taylor added six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in perhaps the biggest game of his career.
“We have been busting our butts since the beginning of the season,” Taylor said. “We were a team that a lot of people didn’t think would be good and we got doubted a lot.”
There was little reason to doubt the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region, as it managed to keep pace with the Tar Heels through a torrid first half.
A defensive change by head coach Bill Self triggered fits for UNC as it connected on just two field goals in the final 12:40 and scored just 20 points in the final 20 minutes. Star junior forward Thomas Robinson called the triangle-and-two defense “brilliant”.
Kansas torched the nets in the first half, as Robinson put in 14 of his 18 points and Taylor added 11. With Robinson struggling to find his game in the second half, though, Taylor was able to shoulder the load.
“It was only a matter of time before the lid came off and Tyshawn hit a shot,” Robinson said. “He stepped up. He’s the best point guard in the country.”
Releford’s dunk with 1:29 remaining put the Jayhawks ahead 76-67, at which point the pro-KU crowd realized it was theirs for the taking.
Robinson scolded Taylor at dinner on Friday night for looking ahead to the Final Four, but the guard was able to focus enough on Sunday.
“This is what I’ve been here four years for,” Taylor said. “I finally get my chance. I’m so, so excited.”
As Robinson took the ladder and cut down the net, he took a solid whiff.
“It was the smell of victory,” he said. “That’s what it smells like. It smells like New Orleans.”
When the buzzer sounded and a physical game had been put to rest, only four teams were officially left in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
“I didn’t care how we won this game tonight,” Robinson said. “All that matters at the end of the day, we’re going to the Final Four.”