And they should have.
The #12-seeded Tigers kept this NCAA Tournament second round game close for 30 minutes before the bigger, stronger Jayhawks pulled away, winning 78-63.
Wayne Simien led the way for KU with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds – not bad for a guy who earlier in the day was listed as questionable to even play.
“I felt great out there,” said Wayne Simien after the game. “It only bothered me once, but with the adrenaline and atmosphere of a tournament game and being in Kansas City playing in front of our fans and the chance to play in the sweet sixteen – those kinds of emotions just overrode everything I was feeling.”
KU took a 36-32 lead into the locker room at halftime but it took a 5-0 mini-run to do so.
However, as the second half wore on, Jayhawk hustle made the difference.
“(Pacific) scratched and clawed the whole way,” Simien said. “It just came down to rebounds and loose balls. We did a great job the whole game, especially the last five minutes, getting it one-and-done at their offensive end, and then coming down and executing at our offensive end.”
At the 10:49 mark of the second half, Pacific’s 6-0 guard Miah Davis drove through a forest of KU players to make an acrobatic lay-up to tie the game at 51.
From there on out, however, it was all crimson and blue and the Jayhawks finished the game on a 27-12 run.
Mike Lee also came up big for KU, scoring nine second half points. If fact, Lee went on a 9-4 run against Pacific by himself during a two-and-a-half minute stretch in which the Jayhawks increased their lead from 53-51 to 62-55.
“Mike Lee was huge for us today. He came in and got some rebounds and got a steal and made some big shots and that was really key for us,” Simien said.
“That stretch where I had nine straight points, I credit that to the team,” Lee said. “We got out and played good defense and got out and ran the floor, and I was in the right spots at the right time.”
“Right now, everyone’s just focused on coming out and playing their role. If that happens, then everything goes fine. Aaron came out and initiated on the defensive end; Keith got some early looks; Wayne was playing well; Jeff Graves was tremendous; I think D.P. (David Padgett) was very productive in the 11 minutes he played. Everybody’s just focused on playing their role. And when that happens, we’re just much better.”
Next up for Kansas is the regional semi-final game in St. Louis’ Savvis Center against the #9-seed University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers, upset winners over #1-seed Kentucky, 76-75.
Photo Courtesy: (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)