Yet the Jayhawks, despite a tough double-team that limited national player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson to two field goals on 12 attempts, found a way to rally.
Junior guard Elijah Johnson was key, contributing to three straight field goals down the stretch by canning a 3-pointer, feeding a lob for an assist and converting a steal into a run-out layup. His team-high 18 points boosted Kansas to a hard-fought 63-60 win as it improved 29-6. The Jayhawks will meet North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 on March 23 in St. Louis, Mo.
"He has rhythm. His confidence seems higher," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Johnson. "I don't know if there is anything specifically other than the fact that maybe he's realized he's talented. He's a good guard. I would say he was our best player in Omaha when you think of both games."
Johnson certainly was against Purdue, carrying out the message the Kansas players endorsed at halftime.
"We said no more second-guessing," Johnson said.
So down the stretch, even though the 3-pointer he tried was deep, even though the lob to teammate Tyshawn Taylor was risky, and even though the runaway layup required every bit of speed he had pushing a basketball, Johnson made the plays and saved the Jayhawks the embarrassment of losing to a No. 10 seed that finished sixth in the Big Ten.
In the process, the Jayhawks survived a 33.9 percent shooting touch, their second-worst performance of the season, better only than the second game in November, when they lost to Kentucky, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.
The weekend in St. Louis will provide intrigue. If Kansas gets past North Carolina State, it likely will meet former coach Roy Williams and his top-seeded North Carolina team in the regional final. The Tar Heels play upstart Ohio in the regional semifinals.
Since leaving Kansas, Williams' only meeting against the program he coached 15 seasons and guided to four Final Four appearances was when the Jayhawks beat the Tar Heels in a national semifinal in 2008 en route to winning the national championship.
By beating Detroit and Purdue in their first two NCAA Tournament games, the Jayhawks improved to 4-0 in tournament games played in Omaha, which was where they launched their NCAA title run in 2008. Ninth-year coach Bill Self boosted his career win total in the tournament to 30 with the two victories, while Kansas pushed its all-time mark to 90-39. The Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 28th time.
-- No question the victories Kansas recorded while in Omaha, Neb., during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament were what delighted the large contingent of fans who made the short trip north to follow the Jayhawks. Still, there was another moment to cherish in CenturyLink Center. Missouri, another No. 2 seed grouped into a different regional, played during the early session on the first day of play.
Kansas fans, of course, had tickets for the night session, but many were in attendance and cheered mightily for Norfolk State, which became the No. 15 seed in the history of the tournament to upset a No. 2 seed when they stunned the Tigers.
-- Senior G Tyshawn Taylor suffered from cramps in the tourney opener, a 65-50 victory against Detroit. He was taken into the locker room for treatment and played sparingly in the second half after the Jayhawks established control with a 10-2 run coming out of the break. Taylor deflated the Titans with a coast-to-coast drive as the first-half clock expired, giving Kansas a 10-point cushion at halftime. He said he drank numerous fluids with electrolytes and also peeled his share of bananas to keep from cramping against Purdue. Taylor played 35 minutes in the 63-60 win against the Boilermakers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been around long enough that usually teams that have great success in the tournament, they figure out how to win a game when they don't play their best. We shot 34 percent. That's unheard of. We didn't make free throws. We were six of 24 from (3-point range). Hopefully, this was that game." -- Kansas coach Bill Self, after the Jayhawks squeezed past Purdue.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: Get ready for opponents to smother F Thomas Robinson after he was hounded by double-teams against Purdue. When he was situated on the high post, Robinson had more room to operate, but the dogged pressure limited his effectiveness, even when he attempted put-backs, as he went 2-for-12 from the field.
Kansas had its second-worst shooting performance of the season, dating to the second game, a loss to Kentucky. The risk taken by doubling on Robinson is what the Jayhawks can do from 3-point range. G Tyshawn Taylor went 0-for-4 from that distance against the Boilermakers, but don't look for him to remain in that kind of funk in other tourney games.
FUTURES WATCH: The team Kansas fielded in the NCAA Tournament will be vastly different than the one that returns next season -- assuming F Thomas Robinson joins G Tyshawn Taylor in the NBA Draft. G Elijah Johnson will be a mainstay next season. C Jeff Withey also will return after improving greatly during Big 12 play.
Kansas has another solid recruiting class led by in-state phenom Perry Ellis, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Wichita who played on four state championship teams, going 97-3 over his high school career.
F Jamari Traylor and F Ben McLemore should also add some punch after they were declared ineligible this season. They participated in practices.
REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: After a bumpy nonconference ride that included three defeats, this looked to be the year Big 12 opponents might pick off Kansas and end the Jayhawks' string of conference titles. Instead, Kansas claimed an eighth straight crown by a two-game margin while going undefeated at home.
A semifinal loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament was disappointing, especially after the Jayhawks swept the regular-season series by margins of 18 and 14 points. F Thomas Robinson could be credited with a double-double just about any time he played, which gave Kansas a decided inside edge.
Junior F Thomas Robinson tied the Kansas record for double-doubles with 25 this season after posting two in each of the Jayhawks' NCAA sub-regional victories. Although he made just two of 12 shots against Purdue, he still managed 11 points and 13 rebounds.
-- Junior G Elijah Johnson notched his fourth straight game with 15 or more points when he led the Jayhawks with 18 against Purdue. Johnson added four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
-- Junior G Travis Releford added 10 points and six rebounds against Purdue, a breakout performance after he had managed a combined five points in six previous NCAA Tournament games.