for this game

Rush, Kansas advance to NCAA title game

Apr 6, 2008 - 5:21 AM By Matt Santillo PA SportsTicker College Basketball Editor

SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Kansas nearly coughed up an unbelievable start. Instead, the Jayhawks gave their former coach a loss that will be hard to swallow.

Brandon Rush scored 25 points as Kansas staved off a furious comeback by North Carolina to post an 84-66 victory Saturday and advanced to Monday's national title game.

The Jayhawks (36-3) are in the championship game for the second time in six seasons, and the first since coach Roy Williams spurned them to return to North Carolina.

It clearly was a difficult loss for Williams, who preferred to blame himself for not preparing the team than stick any of the loss on his players.

"(When) push comes to shove, Kansas beat North Carolina," Williams said. "But I'm part of North Carolina and I've got to accept the blame, try to make sure that my players know that I take a bigger load of that and share it even more."

The replacement for Williams at Kansas, Bill Self, has had a significant week, finally ending his struggles in a regional final with a win over Davidson on Sunday and now getting a chance to pick up a championship.

"No better week," he said. "But it's not because of Roy. That doesn't have anything to do with it. I've said that many times, and people don't buy into it.

"To everybody else, it's a big deal. That's not a big deal. But this has been a remarkable week, and hopefully it can continue for, you know, make it a remarkable nine or 10 days."

Winning its last title back in 1988, Kansas will face Memphis (38-1), which roughed up UCLA, 78-63, earlier Saturday.

"Since the tournament started, a lot of guys been talking about this," Jayhawks forward Darnell Jackson said. "And Coach Self, he's been doing a great job, been helping us to stay focused and telling us not to be satisfied. We've been playing so hard as a team, and together, and not playing selfish, now we got an opportunity to make history at Kansas."

Williams, who was facing the Jayhawks for the first time since leaving them following a national runner-up showing against Syracuse in 2003, saw his Tar Heels managed just 10 points through the first 11-plus minutes, falling behind by as many as 28 points.

"They hit us right between the eyes," Williams said. "We probably rushed things a little bit. They just kept hammering. But they were really something early in the game. And then, we didn't play the way we wanted to early, to say the least."

The top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina (36-3) staged a rally after the break, closing within 54-50 on a layup by Wayne Ellington with 11:15 to play.

However, there would be no comeback for the ages for Williams and the Tar Heels, as Kansas recovered by scoring eight of the next 11 points and later put the game away with a 13-0 run.

"I guess it's a little like that story tale about the little engine that spent so much trying to get up the hill, it didn't have anything left when it got to the top," Williams said.

"We fought and we fought. You know, we cut it," Ellington said. "We had it right where we wanted to be. I felt like we just kind of gave in when they started attacking us again."

Sasha Kaun only had four points total, but recorded two of them in that first key stretch, slamming home an alley-oop pass from Sherron Collins for a 62-53 lead with 7:05 remaining.

"Well, it was three different games," Self said. "First game we were great. Second game, we weren't very good, and they were great. The last game, obviously we played super down the stretch. But, you know, our guys were in attack mode right from the outset and I thought we just did a really good job of being the aggressor early, which set the tone for the game."

Rush had 12 of his points in a dominant first half for the Jayhawks, who went on an 18-0 run en route to grabbing a 33-10 bulge with 9:31 left. That cushion grew to 40-12 before North Carolina was able to chip into it, trailing, 44-27, at the break.

"We definitely played the best basketball we played in the first half, with that first 15 minutes," Rush said. "We got out, we got some easy baskets, we made them work on the defensive end. We outrebounded them in the first half, too."

The 27 points were a season low for the first half for the Tar Heels, who missed 13 straight shots at one point and went 9-of-31 (29 percent) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.

Jackson scored 12 points and Mario Chalmers and Collins had 11 each for Kansas, which shot 53 percent (34-of-64) from the field and outrebounded North Carolina, 42-33.

Ellington scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half for the Tar Heels, who finished at 36 percent (24-of-67) and committed 18 turnovers.

Tyler Hansbrough finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for UNC.

It could end up being a bitter farewell to an outstanding collegiate career for Hansbrough, who has done everything but win a national title in his time at Chapel Hill.

"(The) first word that I think of is 'frustrating,'" Hansbrough said. "You get here to the Final Four, you feel like you've been playing good, and then we just didn't come out with the energy we needed to tonight. Just frustrating."