North Carolina vs. Kansas – Game Recap – April 4, 2022
NEW ORLEANS — Kansas’ great comeback, as it will forever be known in the history books, is about more than one sweltering, scintillating 20-minute streak of Jayhawks basketball.
The KU championship captured on Monday night dates back to 2020, when the Jayhawks were a team that looked well on their way to the program’s fourth national title.
Instead it was KU’s 72-69 win over North Carolina on Monday, it brought that fourth championship banner back to Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks insisted they also share it with the 2020 team.
“It’s partly a win for them,” said coach Bill Self, who has now led Kansas to two of its four titles. “Because I always thought the 2020 team was better, more equipped to do well in the NCAA Tournament.”
Led by Devon Dotson and NBA first-round pick Udoka Azubuike, this 2020 team was, in fact, a team built for a championship. He was heading for the top seed and the overwhelming favorite to win it all.
They were a team that never had a chance after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and wiped out the season.
Most of the key players in Monday’s title game comeback – David McCormack (15 points), Ochai Agbaji (12), Christian Braun (12) and Jalen Wilson (15) – were also part of that squad. The players who remained formed a balanced group of veterans who entered the game with a breathtaking 973-game college experience.
If a group was built to not lose its cool when things went wrong, this group could have been it. But boy, things were looking pretty bleak for the Jayhawks as the first half ended.
Led by a dominating inside game from Armando Bacot and an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points, the Tar Heels ran 16 points in a row to take a 16-point lead. Kansas looked stuck in cement.
Self used the long half-time break to calm things down and breathe fire into his players. He tweaked the defense, forcing DaJuan Harris Jr. to apply more pressure early on UNC ball player RJ Davis. Kansas clogged the passing lanes, forced the Tar Heels into rushing shots, and was eliminated.
This led to more running points, more quick break points (8) and turned a 16-point deficit into a six-point lead with 10 minutes left. In the end, Kansas held on and made the biggest comeback in title game history, overtaking Loyola-Chicago’s 15-point rally against Cincinnati in 1963.
“With the group of guys as experienced as this and knowing each other so well, it’s kind of hard to see us shaken up,” said Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot, who is in his sixth year at the HL. ‘university. “Coach had a great message for us, and he challenged us to be better and have more pride.”
COVID-19 also hurt Kansas last season. Some players fell ill as the tournament approached. The Jayhawks entered Indy as the 3rd seed, but left after just two games – the second of those in a humiliating 34-point loss to USC.
They added Remy Martin, a transfer from Arizona State, but the rest of the group remained the same. Martin has become a sixth key man for the Jayhawks. On Monday, he found his shooting touch and scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half.
“They’ve always had my back and they’ve always given me confidence,” said Martin, who battled injury earlier this year. “And I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
The other guys, Self said, just got better as the season progressed.
Agbaji adds Final Four Most Outstanding Player to his All-America title. McCormack went head-to-head with North Carolina double-double machine Bacot. The big man from Kansas pulled back to make a bucket for a 70-69 lead with 1:22 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Bacot injured his ankle. That allowed McCormack to seal the game with another point-blank shot, this one on Carolina’s less robust defenseman Brady Manek.
“Coach called the play and said we were going to throw it inside and we trust you and we trust you to deliver and get us a basket,” McCormack said. “I just won, I made the basket happen. I thank them for allowing me to have this opportunity.
And Kansas appreciates it.
The victory will not be completely erase the problems that could be brewing for Lawrence. There’s an NCAA investigation into that program, and the potential for harsh penalties hasn’t made Kansas’ run any easier.
But for now, it’s time to party.
This fourth national title will not be named after a single player, in the same way that the 1988 championship belongs to Danny (Manning) and the Miracles or 2008 was the product of Mario Chalmers 3’s last draw.
This one, Self insisted, was more of a group effort.
Pretty big group, at that.
This group of Jayhawks want to share it with Azubuike, who is in the NBA, and Dotson, who was in the Superdome to watch Kansas win.
“To win when your team had to fight back and come back like they did and show a lot of grit makes this one a winner,” Self said.
He was talking about Monday.
He could also have talked about the last three seasons.