Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 70, #8 North Carolina 58Posted by Brian Goodman on March 24th, 2013
Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the third round of the South regional in Kansas City. You can also follow Brian on Twitter at @BSGoodman.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Kansas’ experienced players took North Carolina by the horns. While Ben McLemore has had his share of moments this season (more on that later), part of Bill Self’s allure is that he’s enormously successful at his high-pressure job without having to rely heavily on inexperienced but talented phenoms like McLemore, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry in big moments. Sunday’s win was another manifestation of that point, as the Jayhawks received outstanding performances from their fifth-year seniors. Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford – playing in his hometown – combined for 48 points and 33 rebounds. Withey’s defense set the tone for Kansas as it continued to struggle in the first half and keyed the offense in the second half with three authoritative dunks. Young played his usual lockdown interior defense and made the plays fans have expected him to make. Releford is known primarily for his defense, but KU’s results when he’s involved and successful in the offense speak for themselves, as the Jayhawks are 46-1 in his four years when he scores at least ten points. McLemore, who spent most of the second half on the bench and finished 0-9 from the floor, can still be an x-factor in this tournament, but to say his services were not needed tonight would be an understatement.
- It was a tale of two halves for Kansas, but not for the Heels: The Jayhawks’ shooting struggles of their first 50 tournament minutes reached a nadir, as they shot 25% from the field in the first half, the worst such mark in their storied tournament history. Kansas missed bunny after bunny and wasted nearly every fast break opportunity presented by their consistently solid defensive presence. However, while North Carolina went into the locker room with a nine-point lead, it very easily could have been 12 or 15, as the Tar Heels missed their share of easy looks themselves. North Carolina’s offensive struggles continued after intermission, but the lid lifted for Kansas. The Jayhawks opened the second half on a 19-5 run, powered by Withey’s authoritative dunks and their first, second and three made three-pointers of the tournament and never looked back. North Carolina became undisciplined in the second half, missing five straight three pointers.
- The Jayhawks didn’t need Ben McLemore, but they will soon. Coming into tonight, Ben McLemore, who has bailed Kansas out of many a mess this season, hasn’t had the kind of March fans expected. While he contributed strong outings in the Big 12 tournament, he had an unspectacular night Friday and played the worst game of his short career Sunday night. McLemore rushed shots and passes, prompting a wide variety of flustered reactions from Self, and wasn’t a factor in Kansas’ monstrous second half. The best defense in the country (by opponent field-goal percentage) has a date with the high-powered Michigan offense next weekend, but the matchup also begs the question not just of what Kansas will get out of McLemore, but how badly they’ll need him.
Star Of The Game: Tie – Jeff Withey (16 points, career-high 16 rebounds, five blocks) and Travis Releford (22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals). Kansas’ seniors were outstanding. Withey was a force on defense and was intimidating on offense, sticking several putbacks and putting North Carolina’s offense on the ropes in front of a supportive crowd. Releford, playing in his native Kansas City for the last time as a collegian, turned in a fantastic outing. The fifth-year swingman has seemingly always played well in this building, and it showed again Sunday night.
Sights And Sounds: The North Carolina fan base, a well traveled-one, was silenced at the Sprint Center, located just one hour from Lawrence. While they had a devoted section, it was amazing to see and hear just how easily they were drowned out.
Quotable: “We did not utilize the benefit (of playing in front of a hometown crowd) in the first half, but we gave them a chance to get more involved in the second half.” — Kansas head coach Bill Self on the payoff of getting a #1 seed.
What’s Next: They Jayhawks face Michigan in the regional semifinals in Arlington next weekend. The Wolverines had no trouble turning away pesky VCU, but can they handle Kansas’ perimeter pressure and suffocating interior defense?