By: Andrew Kahn
Saturday’s Final Four action in New Orleans featured two impressive second-half runs by the teams trailing at halftime, but only one was able to complete the comeback. Kansas overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to beat Ohio State, while Louisville couldn’t quite get over the hump against Kentucky. The result is tonight’s epic title game between two of college basketball’s blue bloods.
Kentucky’s balanced attack
The Wildcats did not play their best on Saturday. They committed 14 turnovers (to just nine assists), got pounded on the boards, and shot just 11-for-20 from the foul line. And yet after allowing the first basket of the game, Kentucky never trailed again and won 69-61 (Kentucky won the regular season meeting 69-62). The Wildcats shared the ball beautifully; no player attempted more than nine shots. That unselfishness is a big reason why even Rick Pitino had to admit he liked this Kentucky squad.
Louisville loses Bluegrass Battle
Louisville had to know it would take an incredible effort to beat Kentucky, and even that might not be enough. The Cardinals out-rebounded Kentucky 40-33 and pulled down a whopping 19 offensive boards to Kentucky’s six. They went on a 15-3 run in the second half to tie the game at 49 with 9:13 left. But they just didn’t have the firepower to topple the best team in the country. As tough as it must be to lose to a hated rival, especially given the stakes, Louisville fans have to be happy with a Final Four appearance, Big East Tournament title, and 30 wins.
Kansas ahead when it counts
Kansas led 2-0 and not again until there was 2:48 left in the game. The Jayhawks held the lead for a total of 3 minutes and 48 seconds but were up 64-62 when the final buzzer sounded. They ended the first half with four unanswered points, including a lay-up at the buzzer, and carried that momentum into the second half, going on a 17-4 run to tie the game at 38. Ohio State missed 11 straight field goals during that stretch. To beat Kentucky, though, Kansas will likely have to shoot better from three-point range. The Jayhawks went 3-of-11 from deep on Saturday, and Tyshawn Taylor, who has missed all 20 of his three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament, went 0-for-3.
Buckeye on the bench
Forward Deshaun Thomas entered the Final Four as Ohio State’s leading scorer in the Tournament, averaging 21 points per game. Against Kansas, he was limited to just 23 minutes, however, due to foul trouble. He picked up his third foul a few minutes into the second half and his fourth with 11:30 remaining. Assigned with guarding All-American Thomas Robinson and providing Ohio State another inside scoring presence, the Buckeyes sorely missed Thomas during Kansas’ second-half run.
All-Time Title Game
As the top two winningest programs in college basketball history, Kentucky and Kansas bring a combined 4,159 wins to their championship match-up tonight. John Calipari is looking for his first national championship after three previous trips to the Final Four. Like the two semifinal games, UK vs. KU is a rematch from earlier this season. The Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 75-65 in Madison Square Garden in just the second game of the season for both teams.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.