All year, defense has carried Kansas. And defense carried the Jayhawks when they needed it most Saturday night.
Kansas led by 10 points early in the second half before North Carolina drew to 58-57. The Jayhawks then answered with 6 points in just 36 seconds to regain control en route to a 79-73 victory over the Tar Heels in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.The Jayhawks, who won NCAA titles in 1952 and 1988, advance to the championship game for the sixth time.
"They'd just made a run on us and cut it to one point," said Jayhawks guard Adonis Jordan. "Alonzo (Jamison) came back in the game and our main point then was to get the ball inside to Alonzo because we thought they didn't have any one who could guard him inside.
"We also wanted to get out in the passing lanes on defense and that's what we did."
Sean Tunstall started the run with a 3-point shot off a Jordan assist. After a North Carolina miss, Mark Randall fed Richard Scott for an easy layup. Kansas filled the lanes then and quickly stole a pass with Jordan double-pumped and banked in a layup off Jamison's pass for a 65-57 bulge that brought on a Tar Heels' timeout.
"I almost broke my elbow (because of the double pump)," said Jordan. "But we had a steal and a layup and a 3-pointer. From that point on we felt we could win that game.
"We got those couple of steals and got (the lead) back up. One time at the free throw line we got together and said, `Come on now we're up, don't let this slip by.' "
The Jayhawks didn't, surviving poor foul shooting to put an ugly finish on what had been expected to be a game between two teams with the same on-court schemes.
Jordan said the fact that Roy Williams raided North Carolina Coach Dean Smith's playbook when he became the Kansas coach did make for some interesting moments.
"Both teams didn't get much from their set plays, we just had to run free lance," Jordan said.
"It's kind of like playing in practice when the blue team is playing the red team and the red team knows what we're going to do. You have to kind of counteract what they know. Sometimes even though the person knows what you're going to do, you might still be able to get it.
"I'd call B-2 and I'd look at King (Rice, the North Carolina guard) and he'd start smiling because he knew exactly what the play was. We just had to huddle up every out of bounds play, it was like a secret."
As the game wound down there was no need for secrets any longer as North Carolina forced up bad shots and Kansas kept its poise.
Perhaps the greatest shock to the Tar Heels' system was when Williams held up four fingers and, with about 1:45 to play, Kansas pulled out into the North Carolina four corners. Smith's spread was used to haunt his own team.
But Jordan said the strategy is as much crimson and blue as Carolina blue.
"We played Kansas basketball," he said. "We've got the same type of system and we got it from North Carolina. But we played with poise. If you want to say we played the way other North Carolina teams a few years ago, we did."