And then there were ones. Four No. 1s, that is. Kansas wore down Stephen Curry and plucky upstart Davidson with its size and strength, holding on for a 59-57 victory Sunday that put all four No. 1 seeds into the Final Four for the first time.
After Kansas' Sherron Collins missed with 19 seconds left, the 10th-seeded Wildcats got one last chance. Curry was double-teamed, could not get off a shot and forced to pass to Jason Richards, whose 25-footer from the top of the key thudded off the backboard.
Richards dropped to his back at midcourt while the Jayhawks celebrated with a measure of relief.
Kansas moved on to play overall No. 1 seed North Carolina on Saturday, and UCLA and Memphis will round out the party at the Alamodome. Three No. 1s have advanced three times, most recently in 1999.
The win also rids Bill Self of that dreaded "best coach never to make a Final Four" label. Self had fallen short with three different schools, including last year's edition of the Jayhawks. But this year's bunch had too much talent, depth and experience to be denied.
Curry, who became only the fourth player to hit the 30-point mark in his first four NCAA tournament games, finished with 25 on 9-of-25 shooting and was picked Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. His roommate, Bryant Barr, was the only other Davidson player in double figures, scoring all 11 of his points in the second half.
The loss snapped Davidson's 25-game winning streak, longest in the nation.
Brandon Rush scored eight of his 12 points in the second half, and Sasha Kaun came up with big baskets down the stretch whenever the Jayhawks needed them as Kansas ended the feel-good story of the tournament. Tiny Davidson, trying to become only the third double-digit to make the Final Four, ran out of gas in the stretch.
Not that the Wildcats didn't put up a valiant fight. Curry looked exhausted much of the second half — with good reason, after leading the Wildcats to upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin. But he showed the same moxie he's had all tournament, drilling an NBA-range 3-pointer with 54 seconds left that cut Kansas' lead to 59-57.
Kaun and Mario Chalmers led the Jayhawks with 13 each.
But these Wildcats have nothing to be ashamed of. They hung with the toughest teams in the nation — Georgetown and Wisconsin had two of the stingiest defenses in the country — and gave little Davidson something to be known for besides providing free laundry to its students. The Wildcats left the floor to applause from a fan club that's gotten a lot bigger over the last two weeks, and Max Paulhus Gosselin acknowledged them by holding up his index finger.
This is the Jayhawks' 13th trip to the Final Four, but the players celebrated as if it was their first. Which, it was.
Kansas lost to UCLA in the regional finals last year, and Self had come up short with three different teams. No more. He smiled and gave a thumbs-up to the Kansas fans who shouted his name, and the players beamed as they lined up to cut down the nets at Ford Field.
Curry, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, had made the tournament his own little party, hanging 30 points on Georgetown and 33 against Wisconsin and delighting fans with his silky-smooth shot. The rest of the Wildcats weren't bad, either, and they had folks all over rooting for yet another underdog-made-good story.
And for awhile, it looked as if it just might happen.
Kansas came in walloping opponents by almost 20 points a game, best in the nation, and the Jayhawks' "toughest" test in the tournament thus far had been a 15-point win over Villanova on Friday night. They had a distinct advantage in size and stature — on and off the court.
Yet Davidson's pesky defense had them looking downright tight for most of the afternoon. They had 14 turnovers — nine in the first half alone — and at one point had more turnovers (3) than field goals (1). They even had a shot-clock violation coming out of a timeout.
They had foul trouble, too, with Kaun playing only eight minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Rush practically disappeared after a couple of baskets, enduring a 19-minute stretch that spanned halftime without a field goal.
Barr made three 3-pointers, and Curry scored on a long jumper to give Davidson a 51-47 lead with 8:54 left. But the Wildcats were clearly tiring, and they couldn't hold the Jayhawks back any longer.
Chalmers stripped the ball and took it in for a layup, Collins followed with a 3 and Kaun scored on a layup. After Barr made a layup, Arthur kissed one off the glass to make it 56-53. Kaun made a free throw, and Rush made a pair to push the lead to 59-53, matching the largest margin of the game.
But Curry had one last highlight left in him. Thomas Sander missed the second of two free throws and, after the loose ball went off a Jayhawk, Curry hit his 3-pointer that cut the lead to 2. But that's where the game would end.