UNC vs. Kansas: Great ending to a great NCAA Tournament

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AP Photographer David J. Phillip

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) celebrates during the second half of a college basketball game against North Carolina in the finals of the Men’s Final Four NCAA tournament.

Corey Lichtman, Contributing Writer

Bill Self and the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks were victorious Monday night, as they defeated the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels by a score of 72-69 in the men’s NCAA Basketball National Championship game in New Orleans. 

The Jayhawks overcame a 15-point halftime deficit, as they were led by five players in double-digits, including David McCormack and Jalen Wilson, who each had 15 points. First team All-American Ochai Agbaji finished with 12 points, en route to being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. This was Bill Self’s second national championship, and the Jayhawks’ fourth as a program. 

The Tar Heels almost had their second national championship since 2017. UNC shot just 31.5% in this game, as it seemed like they ran out of gas in the second half. They were led by big man Armando Bacot, who recorded his 31st double-double of the season with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Point guard standout Caleb Love struggled as he shot just 5-24 from the field, after having 28 points in the previous game against ACC rival Duke. First year head coach Hubert Davis showed a lot of passion on the sideline, as he’s done a great job all year with this North Carolina squad. 

The Tar Heels outrebounded the Jayhawks 55-35, including a 24-8 advantage on the offensive glass. A big part of this was in the first half, when Kansas’ big man McCormack picked up his second foul with 4:17 remaining. UNC outscored Kansas 11-3 in those final four minutes with McCormack on the bench. Kansas was clearly rejuvenated to have him back in the second half, as they overcame the largest deficit in NCAA Championship game history. 

The Jayhawks stopped settling from the outside and got the ball in the paint in the second half. During their 31-10 run to start the second half, 20 of those points came inside the paint. 

Arizona State transfer Remy Martin came up big for the Jayhawks. With the score 65-65, Martin hit a big go ahead three with 2:39 remaining to give them the lead. That was one of several big shots from Martin, who had 11 points in the second half, while shooting 4-4 from the field. Martin transferred from Arizona State with hopes of winning a NCAA Championship, and that is exactly what he accomplished. 

In fact, during his time at Arizona State, Martin actually beat Kansas in the NCAA Tournament in both 2017 and 2018. It’s safe to say Jayhawks fans forgive him now.

I loved seeing the Jayhawks change their game plan in the second half and attack the basket more. They were also able to get going in transition, and create easy baskets for guys like Wilson and Christian Braun. With North Carolina being a worn-out team, pushing the ball and getting fast break points was a key to victory in the second half. 

Another thing I enjoyed seeing was Puff Johnson for North Carolina. For a guy who was averaging 2.8 points per game and 10 minutes per game, it was cool to see a guy take advantage of his opportunity. Johnson had 11 points in 18 minutes, as he kept UNC in the game in the second half. It just shows that when you get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. 

Lastly, I respected the sportsmanship displayed towards the end of this game. With 51 seconds remaining, Bacot committed a turnover and injured his knee on the play. While being down, Kansas had a five-on-four fast break opportunity with Bacot down at the other end. Instead of taking it in for a basket, forward Jalen Wilson brought the ball out and waited. The refs eventually stopped play to help Bacot off the court. Kansas ended up scoring after the injury timeout, but the respect and sportsmanship shown from Wilson was something you love to see. 

This tournament was an absolute blast to watch. It was only fitting that this national championship game went down to the wire with two Blue Bloods involved. After an exciting tournament, we only have to wait 341 days for the 2023 big dance.