That sound you hear is a gigantic sigh of relief from every single Kansas Jayhawk fan, the coaches and team, after a big scare, Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
That's after Kansas survived in every sense of the word and prevented themselves from becoming the first number one seed to lose to a 16 seed, as they rallied from a halftime deficit to beat Western Kentucky 64-57, in the "second" round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re happy to advance, but certainly not pleased on how we played,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Certainly, we know that we’ll have to play a lot better on Sunday.”
With that, everyone can now turn their attention to their much-anticipated showdown with North Carolina and former KU coach Roy Williams, Sunday afternoon at 4:15.
Before the games began, that clash was all anyone wanted to talk about, but a look inside shows how close the Jayhawks came to making disastrous history.
Western Kentucky shot 21-66 for 32% for the game, but were a woeful 8-39 for 21% in the second half. Couple with a 3-20 night from beyond the arc and Kansas knows that even four or five more made baskets would have resulted in the ultimate upset in tournament history, despite the Hilltoppers still shooting poorly.
“They kind of surprised us with how good they are, to be honest,” center Jeff Withey said. “We definitely took them lightly, being a number one seed. They came out and they fought us really hard. We can’t let that happen. Thankfully, we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
Indeed, down the stretch, as the Jayhawks finally stretched their lead to double figures at just 10 after trailing for most of the first half, they did almost everything to give the game away.
They turned the ball over at will against Western Kentucky’s press, totaling 17 for the game to only 10 for WKU. They also lost the rebounding battle 41-35 and were annihilated on the offensive glass to the tune of 18-4, but when all set and done, it’s about surviving and advancing and Kansas did just that after providing their faithful with a huge scare to get kick off the tournament.
Withey, one of four seniors on this Kansas team was a big reason for the win. When the team needed something from anyone, he responded, leading the team in scoring with 17 points. He also pulled down five rebounds and blocked seven shots. Combined with Kevin Young’s hustle early in the second half, the Jayhawks front line wore down the smaller Hilltoppers.
“We knew we had a size advantage with me and Kevin,” Withey said. “We definitely wanted to go inside and establish that, so that was our game plan.”
The strategy helped Kansas slowly lengthen their lead, briefly making it to double figures, before holding on for dear life at the end.
However, when they face the Tar Heels, who held off Villanova in the evening’s first game, they know that a similar effort could mark the premature end to their promising season, as North Carolina will be looking to avenge last year’s Elite Eight loss.
“He (Self) just said that we can’t come like that Sunday or else we’re going to beat by 20,” Withey said. “We’ve got to know that North Carolina is very capable of beating us and we’ve got to come ready to play.”