More often than not, college basketball resembles organized chaos. Monday night’s national championship game even lacked the organized part at times.
As such, the historic second-half rally Kansas used to overcome a 15-point deficit was more attributable to making fewer mistakes and being more aggressive than the North Carolina team that appeared fatigued and was running out of healthy players by the time the final buzzer sounded.
That is not to say things didn’t look bleak for the Jayhawks when North Carolina closed the first half on an 18-3 run to lead 40-25 and KU’s big men David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot were in foul trouble trying to keep UNC’s Armando Bacot off the glass and out of the lane.
What Kansas did manage to do was flip the script in to find a more successful pace after intermission. They were at times too fast in the first half, rushing shots and failing to pass out of double teams in the paint. At other times they were too slow, unable to find good looks in half-court sets.
SWEET VICTORY: Self, Kansas go from certain choke job to stunning recovery
SOME PERSPECTIVE: North Carolina’s loss shouldn’t obscure its amazing run
HIGHS AND LOWS: Winners and losers from a wild Kansas-UNC title game
Once they found the Goldilocks just-right tempo, things changed. It started on defense. Pressure on North Carolina’s ball-handlers disrupted the Tar Heels and forced them into mistakes. Turnovers and missed shots led to transition opportunities.
McCormack and Jalen Wilson, who finished with 15 points apiece, were able to score in rhythm inside. Christian Braun was also able to get to the rim, and Remy Martin’s timely three-pointers helped as well. The Jayhawks also finished with just nine turnovers in the game, which helped overcome a minus-20 rebounding margin.
Kansas quickly scored the first six points after intermission, delivering an early indication things were going to be different. With under 13 minutes left the North Carolina lead was just one with Bruan and Wilson doing much of the damage to pull things closer.
The Jayhawks would surge to a six-point advantage but the Tar Heels fought back as the pace remained high. It also helped KU’s cause that Carolina, despite a heroic effort from Puff Johnson off the bench, appeared to run out of gas. The dagger triples Caleb Love used to sink Duke two nights earlier weren’t falling, and Bacot’s sore ankle finally gave out near the end of the game.
McCormack eventually delivered a go-ahead basket and another to stretch the lead to three in the final minute. The outcome was still in doubt until Love’s three at the buzzer missed everything. At that point, the comeback was complete.
The win wasn’t a work of art, though it was the biggest comeback in championship game history. In the end, no fans in the Sunflower State will care about the game’s lack of aesthetic appeal. They only like the final result, and they’ll celebrate it for a long time.