KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Take a mid-major, add a neutral court and Kansas has a recipe for disaster.
The Jayhawks have stumbled against everyone from Bucknell to Bradley in the NCAA tournament, and barely squeaked by teams like Davidson.
They weren't so fortunate Monday night.
Nik Cochran scored 21 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in the closing minutes, and the plucky Wildcats shocked the 12th-ranked Jayhawks 80-74 at the Sprint Center to exact a little bit of revenge for an epic NCAA tournament loss three years ago.
"They were our equal and we knew that coming in," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Since arriving at Kansas in 2003, the mid-major has been a major headache for Self. Along with losses to the "Killer B's," the Jayhawks have also fallen to Northern Iowa and Virginia Commonwealth.
They barely survived the Wildcats in the regional finals in 2008 before winning the NCAA title.
"I don't think you can take as much this game as you can other games because this team's not that good," Self said of his Jayhawks. "Other games we were more talented and somebody beats you, you consider that an upset. That wasn't an upset tonight."
Self also wasn't convinced that a lengthy break for finals was a problem. He said the team had a good practice Sunday and a "spirited" workout before the game.
"I'm pretty sure Davidson had finals too," Self said. "I'm not buying into that."
Thomas Robinson had 21 points and 18 rebounds for the Jayhawks, while Tyshawn Taylor came back from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee to get 15 points and seven assists. Elijah Johnson also finished with 15 points.
"Everybody was trying to focus in, but it seemed like every play there was a small mistake," Johnson said. "We couldn't get all five on the same page."
JP Kuhlman added 15 points and De'Mon Brooks had 13 for the Wildcats (7-3), who led the final 23-plus minutes to knock off the defending Big 12 champs in their home away from home.
The Jayhawks (7-3) had won 13 of the 15 games they had played at the Sprint Center, about a 30-minute drive from their campus in Lawrence, including the last two Big 12 titles. The losses also came out of conference — to Syracuse and Massachusetts.
It was the first meeting between the schools since the NCAA regional final in 2008, when Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on an inspired postseason run. Kansas managed a 59-57 victory when a last-second shot by Davidson's Jason Richards clanked off the rim, and the Jayhawks went on to win the fifth national championship in school history.
"A couple years back we took something real important from them. They probably circled this one early in the year," Johnson said. "We knew with us being Kansas, they played teams like us before. We knew they wouldn't come out afraid of us."
Davidson was clinging to a 68-65 lead with 1:31 left and the shot clock winding down when Cochran took a pass from well beyond the 3-point line, squared up to the rim and let go a shot that hit nothing but net. Taylor couldn't match it at the other end, his 3 clanking off the front of the rim, and Davidson managed to seal it from the free throw line.
Both teams went through long scoreless droughts, dreadful shooting slumps and a mishmash of turnovers and missed opportunities that prevented the game from having any type of flow.
Kansas finished 25 of 62 from the field (40.3 percent), but just 6 of 23 from beyond the 3-point line. The Jayhawks were also 18 of 31 from the free throw line.
"As poorly as we played, and certainly didn't get stops when we needed to, if we make our free throws at least at a better percentage, then the outcome possibly could've been different," Self said.
The juxtaposition of Davidson's veteran poise — four starters returned from last season's team — with the inexperience of Kansas became evident. The Wildcats responded to adversity by scoring the next six points, and carried a 33-32 lead into halftime at a silenced Sprint Center.
It never got very loud in the second half.
Every time Kansas tried to go on a run, Davidson coach Bob McKillop was quick to call a timeout, and his veteran bunch managed to answer nearly every basket with one of their own, ultimately pulling out a victory that snapped a two-game losing streak in most impressive fashion.
"It's a statement about a team that has shown some resiliency, when you play a storied program — and this is one of the storied programs in America — and you play them on a neutral site, but a home court," McKillop said. "This was as pure as it gets, and to win in this environment is very special."