SALT LAKE CITY — Kansas has four freshmen in its starting lineup, didn't win the Big 12 championship for the first time since 2004 and came into the NCAA Tournament with its lowest seed in 13 years.
The Jayhawks played like it Saturday night.
And their opponent? Auburn looked nothing like the team that melted down in the final moments Thursday and nearly lost to 12th-seeded New Mexico State in the first round.
After surviving that 5-12 matchup trap game, the Tigers looked like a championship contender while storming to an 89-75 blowout win over the Jayhawks in the second round at Vivint Arena.
That might have consoled some Auburn sports fans who were bummed about the women's team being eliminated from the other NCAA Tournament by BYU earlier in the day.
With their two wins in Salt Lake City, the Auburn men advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team has won 10 straight, said he's "awfully excited" for his team to move on in the Midwest Regional to face the winner of Sunday's Washington-North Carolina game.
"It's the fifth time in Auburn basketball history that we managed to do that," Pearl said. "We're just grateful, all of us, for the opportunity to represent Auburn in this kind of a competition."
Guard Bryce Brown led the SEC champions with 25 points, including a sensational 7-for-11 performance from 3-point range. Jared Harper (18 points), Chuma Okeke (12) and Anfernee McLemore (11) each drained a pair of long shots as Auburn drained 13 as a team.
"It starts on the defensive side of the ball with us," Brown said. "Typically, when we start off hot on a defensive end, we start off hot on the offensive end. And that's what it's been like all season long. We get out in transition, knock down shots. And I feel like that's just part of who we are and what we do. And we continue to do that and we continue to win ball games and go even further."
That's quite the statement for a player from a program that made it to the second round last spring but hadn't even participated in March Madness previously since 2003 when it lost to Syracuse.
While Brown & Co. sizzled the nets in the first half, hitting 9 of 17 on 3s, the Jayhawks missed nine of 10 from beyond the arc and shot just 29.6 percent from the field while falling behind 51-25 at halftime.
Kansas only managed to get within 13 late in the second half. The Jayhawks did avoid suffering their worst margin of defeat in the NCAAs, which happened in an 18-point loss in the 1940 national championship game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"Well, obviously, we're disappointed in how we played, but also how we played shouldn't take away from how great Auburn played. They were fantastic," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We hadn't seen an onslaught like that all year, in the first 10 minutes of the game. And they rattled us and we didn't respond very well."
Kansas took a 2-0 lead, but it was basically all Auburn after that.
By the first timeout at the 15:15 mark, the Tigers had taken a 10-point lead thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by Brown.
And he was just warming up. Brown had five of his treys in that incredible first-half showing. At one point, he placed his hand by his ear to encourage the crowd of 17,792 to cheer louder.
The Jayhawks came out firing in the second half, hitting their first five straight shots. Unfortunately for Kansas, though, the Tigers also made their first five buckets and only trimmed the 26-point halftime lead down to 25 in that stretch.
It was a disappointing early exit for a Kansas team that won its first 10 games and was ranked No. 1 early in the season.1 comment on this story
Auburn's most famous alumnus — Charles Barkley — will certainly be thrilled about this outcome. In the postgame press conference, Brown and Harper were asked if they'd ever met The Round Mound of Rebound.
"We've met him a couple of times," Harper said. "He has a statue in front of our gym now so we have definitely met him a couple of times."
They were then asked if they had any stories. Drawing laughter from the postgame press conference, Pearl answered for them: "No."