ROUNDBALL DAILY

Bill Self out-coaches Mike Krzyzewski; Kansas out-toughs Duke to reach Final Four

Malik Newman

Malik Newman scored the final 13 points of the game, and finished with 32 overall, to lead Kansas past Duke in the Elite Eight. (Getty Images)

Bill Self has been vindicated.

You could see it on his face after the final buzzer sounded on Sunday in Omaha, his arms waving over his head, his fists clenched, erupting with an exuberant “yes!” two or three times.

The Hall of Fame coach has taken a lot of heat in recent years for his team’s unceremonious exits from the NCAA Tournament–and rightfully so.

No school in the country has been as consistently great in the regular season, and as consistently underwhelming in the tournament as Kansas, which has earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in each of the past nine years.

The Jayhawks have made losing early as a high seed an art form, something they’d already perfected under Roy Williams, when Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz were getting sent home by Rhode Island.

In the last nine years, KU had just one Final Four appearance (2012) to show for all of its bracket-topping success. Kansas has gone home early more often than that lame couple who never goes out and spends the entire time complaining about beer selection and cover charges when they do.

The Jayhawks lost in the Elite Eight as a 1-seed in both 2016 and ’17, and have been sent home by the likes of seventh-seeded Wichita State (2015), 10th-seeded Stanford (2014), 11th-seeded VCU (2011) and 9th-seeded Northern Iowa (2009). The 2011 squad was 35-2 entering the Elite Eight, before getting expelled by the third-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The lack of Elite Eight success had been a monkey on Self’s back even before his 2008 squad broke through and won the national title. Self was 2-7 all-time in that round entering Sunday.

But after a terrific gameplan, assertion on the boards, and some big-time shots against Duke, all that is now history.

Self out-coached the revered Mike Krzyzewski on Sunday, as his Jayhawks put on a clinic on offense against the zone and rebounding against bigger players.

Self outwitted the Dookies and their adopted zone, using LaGerald Vick to patrol the middle of the 2-3 and make plays, whether it was knocking down a 12-footer, lobbing to Udoka Azibuke for a dunk, or kicking it out to an open shooter for 3, as he did in overtime when he found Malik Newman for one of the biggest shots of the game.

Newman was the best player on the floor, pouring in 32 points on 8-of-19 shooting and 5-of-12 from 3. He also hit 11 of 12 free throws. Almost every three he hit was huge–including the one that gave the ‘Hawks an eventually decisive 81-78 lead with just over a minute left in OT.

He also grabbed 7 rebounds, adding to the Jayhawks’ crucial 47-32 edge on the boards. That Kansas, giving up height inside and burdened by Azubuike playing only 19 minutes due to foul trouble, was able to dominate Duke on the boards was revelatory–and the difference in the game.

Mykhailiuk copped 10, pulling them down over Bagley. Azubuike had 8, and 6-9 Silvio De Sousa, who averaged just 7 minutes per game during the regular season, played 26 minutes and pulled down 10.

The Jayhawks did a fantastic job boxing out, exploiting the weakness of the zone defense, and its innate boxing-out shortcomings.

The Jayhawks also did a tremendous job defensively, especially considering the decided size disadvantage. 6-8 Svi Mykhailiuk matched up with 6-11 Marvin Bagley III for the majority of the game, giving up at least three inches and 30-plus pounds–but he more than held his own, keeping the ball out of his hands and holding him to 16 points.

Duke didn’t do a good job of getting Bagley or fellow freshman sensation Wendell Carter Jr. the ball–instead settling way too often for jump shots. Bagley was just 5-for-9 from the floor. Carter finished 3-of-9, for 10 points. He was burdened by foul trouble all day, and limited to 22 minutes.

The Blue Devils shot 7-of-29 from three-point range, an inexcusable number when you’ve got the advantage inside. Kansas took a few too many 3’s too–including some head-scratching launches from NBA range, but knocked down 13 of them on 36 tries, including one from Mykhailiuk to tie the game with 27 seconds to go in regulation, which will go down as one of the biggest shots in Kansas history.

In overtime, when it mattered most, Newman took over. He scored all 13 of Kansas’ points, knocking down two killer 3’s and four dagger free throws to send the Blue Devils back to Durham.

For a while this season, after the Jayhawks lost to Washington and Arizona State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home, it seemed like this group couldn’t carry on the legacy of teams of years past.

Kansas seemed to be losing its falcon-like grip on the top of the Big 12 standings, and it appeared that for the first time in 13 years, someone else might have a chance to steal their crown.

But then their Hall of Fame coach challenged them, sharped their focus, and they responded by sweeping the Big 12 titles and earning a No. 1 seed.

After an epic Elite Eight battle that required the team Self labeled as “soft” midseason to summon the toughness to outlast Duke with everything on the line, they’ve proven they’re different.

Like many Kansas teams before it, this group is one of the best in the country.

Unlike those teams, they’re¬†heading to the Final Four.

 

Also see: Elite Eight Recap: Loyola-Chicago, Michigan advance

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