Published March 21, 2011
TULSA, Okla. – After a year of endless reminders about an early exit a season ago, maybe Kansas has some good karma ahead as this year's NCAA tournament takes the Jayhawks back to where they last won the national title.
For Arizona, a happy homecoming awaits Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams in the regional semifinals.
A Tulsa group packed with story lines ended Sunday night, with top-seeded Kansas emerging as the only favorite left in the Southwest Regional following a 73-59 win against Illinois.
The Jayhawks (34-2) will head to San Antonio, where they may get peppered with more questions about Mario Chalmers' heroics in 2008 than that unforgettable upset loss to Northern Iowa last year.
Thanks to his clutch plays in back-to-back games, Williams will take his Wildcats back to his Southern California home after a 70-69 defeat of Texas. They'll face No. 1 seed Duke on Thursday in Anaheim.
"Everybody's going to be at the game that we know — family, friends, people that know other people that know us," said Williams, one of three Los Angeles-area natives on the roster, along with Jordin Mayes and Solomon Hill. "So, we're going to have a lot of fans there. It will be like a home game for us.
"Hopefully we don't disappoint. We all want to play it good and against one of the greatest programs in college basketball. Everybody wants to beat Duke when they're younger, and hopefully we can do that."
Two days after a game-clinching block in the final 2 seconds of a victory over Memphis, Williams converted the game-winning three-point play with 9.6 seconds remaining to send Arizona into the round of 16. He finished with 17 points.
The Wildcats missed the tournament last year, snapping a streak of 25 straight appearances.
"Today, everybody had us losing," Williams said. "And we all took that to heart. You never want to be the underdog, but today we were the underdog and we wanted to prove that we could beat anybody.
"We have more games to win. Two down, four more to go."
The Jayhawks' road to the Final Four sure seems to have opened up, after they moved past all the eerie similarities to last year's loss to Northern Iowa. Playing on the one-year anniversary of that loss, also on Oklahoma soil, they came in with the same record and were once again facing a ninth-seeded opponent that had advanced by beating UNLV.
Kansas will play 12th-seeded Richmond on Friday in the Southwest regional semifinals, which will feature No. 11 seed VCU against 10th-seeded Florida State on the other side.
"There's a reason they're in the Sweet 16," Kansas guard Tyrel Reed said. "They're good teams. It doesn't matter what the number next to them said in the beginning, they're here now."
Markieff Morris had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Marcus Morris contributed 17 points and 12 boards and the twin brothers powered Kansas ahead after Illinois had pulled within two at the start of the second half.
The Morris twins scored 24 of Kansas' first 29 points after halftime, and Markieff had three two-handed slams and a putback during a 10-0 run that extended the lead to 66-51 with 2:31 to play.
That allowed the Jayhawks to celebrate — something they couldn't do a year earlier.
"Those guys have been reminded of Northern Iowa every day for the last 365 days," said coach Bill Self, who prevailed over the man who replaced him as Illinois' coach in 2003. "It was good to get that monkey off our back, so to speak, but there's bigger fish to fry.
"Now it's time to go play."
Illinois (20-14) and Texas (28-8) both finished seasons that once were promising.
The Illini were ranked as high as 12th before stumbling to a .500 mark in Big Ten play. They lost 10 of 16 before appearing to play their best basketball again in a blowout against UNLV to start the NCAA tournament. But they just couldn't keep up with the Morris twins.
"I thought we played pretty good but we needed to be special to beat Kansas," senior Bill Cole said. "Even if we were going to be special, we probably needed an off night from Kansas."
Texas lost five of its last 10 games to finish the season, falling from the No. 3 ranking to out of the tournament in the opening weekend after two questionable calls in the last 15 seconds.
The Longhorns were up 69-67 and had possession when they were called for failing to get the ball inbounded in 5 seconds, even though Cory Joseph turned to ask for a timeout just as referee Richard Cartmell signaled that time was up.
After Williams' go-ahead free throw, J'Covan Brown — who scored 21 of his 23 points in the final 12 minutes — missed a potential winning basket with no foul called.
"I just hope that it was a legit 5-second count. I can live with some of the other things because it's a tough game to officiate," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "But counts, there is no reason to not get those right."