Although it looked iffy for both teams in their Sweet 16 games Friday night, somehow you just knew that the Kansas Jayhawks would end up going against their former coach Roy Williams and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final on Sunday in St. Louis.
North Carolina had to pull off some Tar Heel magic late in its fourth-round tournament tilt with pesky Ohio University, forging a tie at the end of regulation before closing out the Bobcats 73-65 in overtime. Ohio buried eight of 13 three-point field-goal attempts in the second half and actually had a one-point lead at 61-60 with one minute left to play in regulation.
The No. 1-seeded Tar Heels took command in the overtime session and held off the Bobcats, a 13 seed, for the victory. It was almost too much for North Carolina's Williams to take. "I thought I was gonna frickin' pass out," the Tar Heel coach said in the press briefing after the game.
Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, had a little bit easier time disposing of 11th-seeded North Carolina State, but it was a real dogfight for most of the contest. The Jayhawks rebounded from a two-point halftime deficit and built a double-digit lead with under five minutes to go, but the Wolfpack gamely fought back and, courtesy of some poor foul shooting on the part of Kansas, cut the Jayhawk lead to one with less than 15 seconds to play. The Jayhawks held on for a 60-57 victory, and now will face their longtime basketball rival and former coach for the right to punch a ticket to the Final Four in New Orleans.
The last time Kansas and North Carolina met in the NCAA Tournament, Bill Self's Jayhawks jumped all over the Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four on their way to their third national championship. Williams, who coached for 15 seasons at Kansas before taking over the reigns at his alma mater in 2003, is seeking UNC's 19th Final Four appearance. The Tar Heels have won it all five times and have finished as runner-up four other times.
Kansas will be trying to advance to the Final Four for the 14th time in its history. The last time Kansas made the Final Four was in its championship run in 2008.
Neither team can afford to play the way it did in Friday's games if it wants to advance to the final stop on the road to the 2012 national championship. A big factor in the game will be the status of Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, who had surgery this week on his injured wrist on his non-shooting hand and sat out in the Heels' narrow win over Ohio.
Another key to the game is how well North Carolina can handle Kansas's two big men in the paint, where the Jayhawks have size and a defensive advantage.
Game time: 4:05 CDT Sunday, March 25
Site: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo.
Stick around for more on the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket.