1. The play of Elijah Johnson
Prior to Tuesday night, Johnson had yet to post double-digit scoring numbers through three games. Versus the Bruins, however, the talented junior exploded for 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting - a staggering 61.5-percent.
His effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) was even better. Effective field-goal percentage gives added weight to made three-point shots, as they're worth more, in order to provide a more accurate picture of a player's performance and value. Johnson hit on four of his eight three-point attempts in the semis.
Here's how the eFG% numbers stack up from Tuesday night's top eight scorers:
Elijah Johnson (23 points) - 76.9-percent
Thomas Robinson (15 points) - 63.6-percent
Tyler Lamb (15 points) - 91.7-percent
Jerime Anderson (14 points) - 66.7-percent
Tyshawn Taylor (13 points) - 45-percent
Reeves Nelson (12 points) - 50-percent
Travis Releford (8 points) - 50-percent
Lazeric Jones (8 points) - 16.7-percent
Obviously, Lamb's numbers jump out immediately. The UCLA sophomore went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, but only attempted six shots total on the night. Comparatively, Johnson attempted 13, so it's tough to argue Lamb was more valuable than he overall from a scoring perspective. The two grabbed the same number of rebounds (4), and Lamb dished out one more assist (2) than Johnson (1). Johnson also accounted for one less turnover (3 to 4 respectively).
What does all of that mean? Johnson was the best player on the floor Tuesday night in what was the best game of his still-young career. He and the rest of the Kansas backcourt will face a big test versus Duke in Wednesday's championship tilt, but if he can continue to play anywhere close to this level…well…it'd be awfully good for the Jayhawks and their chances throughout the rest of the season.
2. Kansas dominated the glass
The base-level stats are pretty enough, as the Jayhawks outrebounded the Bruins 34-21 on the game. Any time a team can wind up with a double-digit margin over its opponent on the glass, it's usually a good sign.
However, offensive rebounds - and thus, second chances at buckets in a single possession - have long been recognized as one of the most important keys to victory - and that's where Kansas really shined.
Offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) - the number of offensive rebounds a team controls relative to the number of opportunities - is another advanced statistic that provides a deeper look at how a team performed.
The statistic is calculated by dividing the number of offensive rebounds by the total number of rebound opportunities (offensive rebounds plus opponent defensive rebounds).
Tuesday night, the Jayhawks grabbed 40-percent of all available offensive rebounds. The Bruins managed just half that - 20-percent. So Kansas not only won the war on the glass, they won the decisive victory on the offensive end.
3. The Jayhawks made Josh Smith a non-factor
In last season's victory over UCLA at Allen Fieldhouse - a game decided in the final moments by a controversial foul call and Mario Little free throws - Josh Smith was a monster. The 6-foot-10, 305-pound sophomore center, then a freshman, scored 17 points in 28 minutes of play.
Furthermore, he bullied the Morris Twins and Thomas Robinson on the glass, hauling down 13 rebounds - including eight on the offensive end.
This season, the Bruins are awfully short on muscle in the post - as are the Jayhawks for that matter. Forwards Reeves Nelson and David and Travis Wear are cut much more from the finesse mold, and Smith is really the only enforcer.
Given Kansas' own size, strength and depth concerns in the paint, one would have thought Tuesday's rematch the perfect setting for him to stage a repeat performance.
Not quite. Plagued by foul trouble, Smith played just 13 minutes and scored a single point - a free throw - grabbing just one rebound as well. He ultimately fouled out of the contest well in advance of its conclusion.
4. Thank goodness for that big first half
The Jayhawks were pretty studly during the first 20 minutes of play. They outscored UCLA 43-26, shot 50-percent from the floor (eFG% of 60.4-percent), out-rebounded them 18-12, forced 18 turnovers (including six steals) and hit five three-pointers.
Defensively, the Jayhawks were outstanding, holding UCLA to just 27.3-percent from the floor (eFG% of 34.1-percent).
It's a good thing, too, because the Bruins closed the gap significantly in the second half, shrinking a deficit that grew to 20 points to just five with less than five minutes remaining in the game, before an Elijah Johnson jumper sparked a 13-2 run with which Kansas closed out the game.
The Jayhawks raced out to an early 12-2 lead, but the key stretch came from the 6:42 mark to the 3:54 mark. A layup from Thomas Robinson off a nifty high-low pass from Jeff Withey kick-started an 12-2 run - comprised mostly of free throws - which helped Kansas open up a 17-point lead.
Getting to the line, sharing the basketball (Kansas assisted on more than 60-percent of its buckets for the game), playing sound defense, rebounding and, oh yeah, shooting lights out - they all contributed to the Jayhawks building a lead which ultimately proved to be insurmountable.