A Tough Ending

Over 12 hours later it is still tough to say the words and nearly impossible to digest.

Over 12 hours later it is still tough to say the words and nearly impossible to digest.

I've gotta say them though because this really DID happen. Kansas blew a 14-point lead in a game it mostly controlled against Michigan and the Jayhawks are out of the NCAA Tournament.

This was an NCAA tourney loss of a different kind.

This was not an early round disappointment to Bucknell, Bradley, or Northern Iowa. This was not an Elite 8 loss to 11th seeded VCU. This was crushing because KU seemingly owned this game for 37 minutes before a shocking meltdown happened. It somehow turned a 68-54 lead into an 87-85 overtime loss.

"This will go down as one of the toughest games that obviously we've been a part of and certainly I've been a part of," KU Head Coach Bill Self told the media after.

For Self and KU, it was a complete reversal of fortune from the 2008 National Championship game vs. Memphis in San Antonio. On that evening KU's comeback was the one that looked improbable.

The Jayhawks were the ones that rallied in the final minute, made plays and got some help from Memphis (with missed free throws). The biggest play of the game coming on a Mario Chalmers three that tied the game and sent it to overtime. Mario's Miracle eventually brought a title home to Lawrence.

Well, Friday night in Dallas became Trey Burke's Miracle and it sent KU home.

I say "miracle" because quite honestly the numbers in favor of KU in this one were staggering. It took great plays by Michigan and quite a bit of help from Kansas. One less play on either side of that equation might've made for a different outcome too.

If I told you Kansas had 5 players in double-figures - including Ben McLemore who found the range again - shot 54.5 percent for the game, and scored 76 points in regulation with 60 of them coming in the paint, would you ever think KU would've been on the losing end of that performance?

Heck no.

"You score 76 points you should win the game, period," said Self. "Especially a team that leads the country in field goal percentage defense."

Kansas, which has had a sputtering offense at times this season, suddenly churned like a well-oiled machine. But maybe that was the worst thing that could've happened to the Jayhawks.

Quite honestly, it just didn't feel like a typical Kansas performance. I know you're wondering how I can say it but that isn't how KU got to the Sweet Sixteen and put a one seed next to its name. It's also why being up just six at the half forced a slight sigh.

"They got 34 at halftime, because we gave up a four-point play off a scouting mistake," Self continued. "We should have gone up ten at half, but who we are was not how we played."

It's not secret the Jayhawks navigated through the first two rounds because of that vaunted defense. It allowed a KU team that was throwing it all over the place against Western Kentucky and awful against Carolina for a half to advance to the second weekend.

But lost in Friday's offensive efficiency was one of the worst defensive performances of the season. Kansas gave up nearly 50 percent shooting from the floor. Sometimes when the offense comes easy - and it did against Michigan for most of the game - you lose some focus and urgency on the other end of the floor.

"We've been a team that's labored offensively and then been really good defensively. And tonight we labored defensively and were better offensively," Self explained. "If we could have been our personality and who we were, I think we would have been so much better off."

But KU was up 14 with less than 7 minutes on the clock so how could anyone complain?

"Even with him playing as well as he was, and (Mitch) McGary getting his career high (25 points), we were still up 12 with three and a half left. And we just didn't make the plays down the stretch. And they made a ton."

The Jayhawks let Burke get comfortable after going scoreless in the first half, you could see the Big Ten Player of the Year's confidence growing. His willingness to take the shot was on the upswing and the Jayhawks inexplicably were going under ball screens. Big mistake.

When the game against Michigan tightened up, KU couldn't call up that defensive focus. The hustle plays, the bounces, and the critical stops went to Michigan.

"This wasn't one possession, this was about five possessions we had that we had a chance to get a stop or create a jump ball or anything," said Self in disbelief.

With Kansas on top 74-69 with less than 30 seconds left, KU got a stop. A big stop. But couldn't secure the rebound and McLemore failed to fall on a loose ball (with the possession arrow favoring KU) that Glenn Robinson III eventually acrobatically put back.

"Ben muffed it and reached for it and they were more aggressive. They were the aggressive team then. And that was a big play," Self pointed out.

Up 76-73, Kevin Young was late picking up Burke on the game-tying 3 with Kansas switching everything. There were crucial lapses.

"The whole deal was don't give up a three and we're going to switch four. We switched and didn't switch up. It was a hard shot. But I'll look back on that one, what were we doing, not to switch up," continued Self.

"We were switching a five," said a tearful Jeff Withey. "I don't know what happened. I don't think we got to him on time and he hit just an unbelievable shot."

"We let him come off naked and shoot it. It was from 27 to 30 feet, but still it was a great play by a big-time player," Self said.

There will be plenty written about Trey Burke's heroics (deservedly so) and Elijah Johnson's curious choices down the stretch (deservedly so) but Kansas lost this game because it wasn't quite Kansas.

If one play, just one play had gone the other way we might've been talking about how terrific but now after a loss of this magnitude, you have to look deep. Even if KU could've came up with the "W" Self still would've pointed out the defensive deficiencies.

So the season ends with a 31-6 record, in a rebuilding year with two more titles to add to KU's storied history. This loss was not about a team failing to meet expectations this was about having control and forgetting what got you there only to have it all painfully slip away at the end.

"This was a team that was supposed to struggle this year and they raised everybody's expectation level, because played to such a high level all year long," Self said. "We thought we were good. And we were good."

"So to lose a game this way, I know our guys are just crushed right now, and this will be a tough one to get over for a long time."


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