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Graney: Kansas proves its worth as best team in winning title

Updated April 4, 2022 - 10:45 pm

NEW ORLEANS — It was a Final Four of Blue Bloods, some of the most historic college basketball programs gathering to prove their worth.

Boatloads of cachet. Truckloads of tradition.

And when it was over, when streams of blue and red confetti fell from the rafters, that which deserved most a national championship had earned it.

Boy, did it ever.

Kansas. Best from the beginning of this tournament. Best in the end.

It took a comeback for the ages, but the Jayhawks prevailed over North Carolina 72-69 on Monday night before an announced crowd of 69,423 at the Caesars Superdome.

It took Kansas rallying from down 40-25 at halftime. It took about as good a final 20 minutes — well, 19 if you count some serious blunders over the final 60 seconds — as any team could muster.

The record for largest halftime deficit overcome in a championship game before Monday was 10 by Kentucky against Utah in 1998. Kansas beat the number by five.

It helps when you open the second half on a 31-10 run.

“I knew this would feel good, but it feels so much better than that,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “To have a team flip the script like that in the NCAA Tournament and show the grit it did was amazing. We’re all a little overwhelmed.”

About that probe

How ironic, too. The school that still awaits word on a three-year-old investigation into allegations of several Level-I violations, including a lack of institutional control, now is perched atop the college basketball world.

Nobody knows when findings of such a probe might be released but you get the feeling it was furthest from the minds of those Jayhawks players and coaches ascending a ladder Monday night to cut down a net.

“I can’t comment on anything that’s ongoing with the case, but I do hope that the end is soon,” Self said this week. “I believe we’re getting closer. But there was never a doubt we could get here.

“This team stayed as locked in as any I have had.”

There are gray areas in all of this. It’s just so dang hard not to like Kansas, a point taken when North Carolina forward Armando Bacot re-injured his ankle in a one-point game with under 1:40 left and hobbled on one leg up the court to get back on defense.

Kansas could have continued attacking but didn’t. Play was stopped and Bacot limped off.

Sportsmanship by the Jayhawks, for sure.

Self now has his second title as the program’s coach and first since 2008, having for years dealt with the charge that his was far too talented a team annually not to claim more championships.

This time was different.

You can say it was a particularly easy path to this final, that the Jayhawks weren’t tested near enough as others in the draw. Sure. OK.

But for a top seed that was barely talked about, that like so many teams was lost for three weeks within the never-ending narrative of Mike Krzyzewski’s final season coaching Duke, Kansas sure came to play at the highest of levels at the most significant of times.

Just blitzed most folks when things got tight.

Defense and transition

A few scores were closer than games really were. It won an Elite Eight game by 26. It beat Villanova in the Final Four by 16. It went crazy over the last 20 minutes and stunned North Carolina.

It won because its defense began getting multiple stops Monday at one end and the transition game that first-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis was so concerned about got out running and executing at the other.

“They pretty much did anything they wanted to in the (second half),” said North Carolina guard Caleb Love. “It hurts. This was for the national championship. We were going to do anything to win.”

Rock, chalk … you know the rest.

Know this, too: The best team over three weeks won.

Of this, there should be no investigation.

Kansas. Case closed.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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