Strong 2nd half pushes Kansas past UNC
Kansas City, MO – For the second straight year, Roy Williams' former team has ended the season of the squad he currently coaches.
Behind a game-high 22 points from Travis Releford, Kansas fought through a first-half fog and dominated North Carolina over the final 20 minutes to secure its third straight Sweet 16 appearance with a 70-58 victory on Sunday in South Regional action at the Sprint Center.
Jeff Withey registered a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Kevin Young added 10 points and nine boards for the Jayhawks (31-5), who knocked off Williams' Tar Heels in last year's Midwest Regional final en route to their runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Jayhawks will next face No. 4 seed Michigan in the South Regional semifinals on Friday.
P.J. Hairston led the Tar Heels (25-11) with 15 points and nine rebounds, while James Michael McAdoo donated 11 points and six boards for North Carolina, which was looking to reach the Sweet 16 for an NCAA-record 25th time since 1975.
"The fact that I coached here for 15 years is extremely important to me, but it doesn't add anything to today," Williams remarked of falling to 0-3 against Kansas since taking the UNC job in 2003. "I hurt for my kids in the locker room. The NCAA tournament, the swiftness with which your season ends is dramatic, and it hurts everywhere."
Kansas struggled to find its rhythm over the opening 20 minutes, as the Jayhawks committed 12 turnovers and shot just 25 percent (7-for-28) from the floor in the first half to find themselves trailing 30-21 at the break.
"We played miserably the first half and they took us out of everything," Kansas coach Bill Self admitted. "The second half, we played really, really well."
Whatever Self told his team in the locker room worked wonders, as the Jayhawks came out on fire in the second half.
Kansas knocked down its first two 3-pointers of the tourney during a 19-5 half-opening outburst that Releford capped with a three-point play to give the Jayhawks a 40-35 lead under seven minutes in.
McAdoo's tip-in briefly stopped the bleeding, but Withey and Releford responded with back-to-back buckets before Naadir Tharpe drilled a trey to make it 50-38 with 10:32 remaining.
North Carolina never recovered from the KU run, as the Tar Heels failed to cut the margin to single digits the rest of the way.
The Tar Heels got as close as 10 on a Hairston three with just under six minutes left, but the Jayhawks answered with six straight points to push the margin to 16 before cruising to victory down the stretch.
Kansas improved to 8-0 at the Sprint Center in 2012-13 and 22-4 all time in the venue ... Kansas went 0-for-6 from 3-point range in their opening-round game and missed its first seven tries from distance in this game before Releford's triple just under two minutes into the second half ... Williams coached at Kansas from 1988-2003 and is the second-winningest coach in Jayhawks' history ... Kansas will be making its 30th Sweet 16 appearance in school history ... Tharpe finished with 12 points for Kansas ... North Carolina scored 23 points off 22 Kansas turnovers.