Second half lifts Kansas to Sweet 16

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 23, 2013
Kansas got the best of `ol Roy and his Tar Heels once again. Behind the impassioned play of Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the top-seeded Jayhawks shook themselves out of a first-half slumber and blitzed No. 8 seed North Carolina down the stretch for a 70-58 victory Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Withey had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Releford finished with 22 points for the Jayhawks (31-5), who also knocked former coach Roy Williams' team out of the NCAA tournament during their 2008 title run and again last season, when Kansas marched all the way to the Final Four. It'll keep marching this year thanks to a superb second half. The Tar Heels (25-11) harassed the Jayhawks into a dozen turnovers and one of its worst shooting performances of the season in taking a 30-21 lead at the break. But they buckled in the second half as Kansas, playing just 40 miles from its campus in Lawrence, turned up the pressure. The Jayhawks wound up outscoring North Carolina 49-28 after halftime, sending them into the South Regional semifinals against fourth-seeded Michigan on Friday in Arlington, Texas. P.J. Hairston scored 15 points and James Michael McAdoo finished with 11 for the Tar Heels (25-11), who advanced out of the tournament's opening weekend each of the last two years. Of course, the subplot whenever two of college basketball's bluest blue bloods meet these days centers on Williams, who coached the Jayhawks for 15 seasons and led them to four Final Fours. Williams has always had a fond place in his heart for his former school, but the Southern charmer was booed heavily by the pro-Kansas crowd during pre-game introductions. The barbs didn't quiet in the second half, when things spun out of control for North Carolina and Williams earned a warning from the officials for being outside the coaching box. It was hard to blame him for being frustrated. The 7-foot Withey shut down the paint, forcing the Tar Heels' new-look, four-guard offense into hanging out around the perimeter. And when their perimeter shots quit falling, and the veteran Jayhawks started to get into transition, North Carolina was powerless to stop them. Kansas has now won at least 31 games four straight years, and improved to 6-1 in games against No. 8 seeds. The Jayhawks have also advanced to the second weekend for the fifth time in six years. Even the most loyal fans would have hardly believed it during the first half. After the opening minute, the Jayhawks missed 11 straight shots, committed four of their 12 first-half turnovers and went 7-plus minutes without a field goal. Then, it was North Carolina's turn to suffer, the Tar Heels missing 12 shots in a row. Everything switched again toward the end of the half, with the Jayhawks clanking just about every shot they put up off the Sprint Center's cold rims, and the up-tempo Tar Heels going on a 14-2 charge that helped them carry a 30-21 lead into the break. Kansas shot just 25 percent in the first half, just a bit better than the Tar Heels, who went at a 26-percent clip, as the teams combined to miss a staggering 52 shots. Once the second half began, it was all Jayhawks. Withey got the crowd inside the Sprint Center stirring with a put-back, and then after the Jayhawks had missed 13 straight 3-pointers to begin the NCAA tournament, Releford hit one from the wing to bring more than 18,000 fans -- the vast majority Kansas fans -- to their feet. Withey kept the charge going by driving the lane for a dunk, and then got isolated in the post for another dunk. Releford added a put-back during their tag-team effort, and Williams, who rarely burns timeouts when teams are on a run, was forced to finally give in. The Jayhawks kept up the pressure throughout the second half, which was summed up with one spectacular play by Withey in the waning minutes: He batted a 3-point shot in the air, tracked it down himself, and then got the ball to Elijah Johnson, who was fouled and made two free throws. The potential five-point swing gave Kansas a 67-52 lead. It wasn't long before that haunting chant of ''Rock, chalk, Jayhawk, K-U!'' -- all too familiar to Williams, and now to his Tar Heels -- began to echo through the cavernous building, ultimately replaced by a standing ovation from Kansas' frenzied fans.
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