There wouldn’t be a four-way final without the No. 1 seed this year as the top seed Kansas used a powerful second run to erase a first-half deficit and eventually put the No. 10 Miami 76-50 in the Midwest regional final on Sunday. The Jayhawks (32-6) are heading into their fourth final under coach Bill Self, and their first since 2018. The contender in 2022 is the same as it was then, with Kansas facing Villanova at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday in New Orleans.
KS struggled in the Elite Eight under Self, going 3-5 before Sunday’s win. And with Kameron McGusty scoring 14 points in the first half, it looked like another tough regional outing was waiting for the Jayhawks. Kansas led 27-26 before Miami (26-10) finished the game by leading 9-2 to get 35-29 in the first half.
Kansas didn’t waste much time erasing that edge in the second half. 3 – Christian Brown’s pointers – Kansas first game – with 15:27 remaining, tie-breaker 40 for each player. After about five minutes, Ochai Agbaji’s pointers pushed her lead to double digits at 12.
Five Jayhawks scored at least nine points led by Agbaji who came out of his last drop with 18 points in 8 of 12 shots, added five rebounds, four assists and four steals. McGusty finished with 18 points to lead the Hurricanes.
Now here are some of the points learned from Kansas’ victory in the Midwest Regional Final on Sunday.
Kansas dominance in the second half
How did Kansas achieve the largest margin of victory in an Elite Eight game since 1992*?
“We got locked up defensively in the second half,” Self said in a post-game interview with CBS.
And then some. The Jayhawks showed a skilful defensive effort in the first half of Sweet 16, taking Providence to 17 points, the fewest brothers ever in a championship match. And they were somehow better against Miami in the second half as Kansas held Miami with just 15 points in the second half and 0.417 points per possession.
These are some of the rides for the Jayhawks this year; After inviting ESPN Events, Self criticized his team’s defense and said his players lacked killer instinct at this end. But thanks to that killer instinct, and Kansas getting better than 59% of her shots in the second half, she won the second half by 47-15.
“It’s obviously a very special year for me and my family, with my father passing,” Self said. “That was his motto: ‘Don’t worry about the mules, just load the cart.’ And the guys didn’t really worry about what was happening in the first half, they just played the second half.”
*The 1992 Elite Eight experienced two larger explosions. Cincinnati beat Memphis State by 31 points at 88-57, while Indiana beat UCLA by 27 points at 106-79.
Agbaji back on the right track
All-America’s first-team selection in Kansas hasn’t been the same player since returning from COVID-19, averaging 16.4 points per game and shooting just 40.1% from the ground and 29.4% from behind the 3-point arc. In three NCAA games, he’s been even worse, averaging 10.3 points per game and shooting 33.3% from the floor and 15.4% from 3.
To put that into perspective, before illness, Agbaji averaged 20.9 points per competition, shooting 51.5% off the floor and 46.4% of 3.
That’s what made his bid against Miami important if Kansas was to establish itself as a legitimate contender in the National Championship. Agbaji scored 18 points on an effective 8-of-12 shot, and made his 3-point attempt while also affecting the match in other areas.
Kansas got a great boost from the return of Remy Martin, who shot the Jayhawks in their last two Big 12 games and then led Kansas in scoring in each of their first three NCAA games. But with Martin scoring nine points in 24 minutes on Sunday, Jay-Hawk was able to return to Agbagi for some big points.
Miami is over, but the foundation remains
The Hurricanes were outstanding for three and a half games in this NCAA tournament, defeating the No. 7 USC seed twice, from recording double-digit wins over No. 2 Auburn and No. 11 Iowa State. Miami then led McGusty’s hot hand by six points in the first half against Jay Hawk.
But things got worse in the second half. Kansas put lid on the basket and Sam Waardenburg quickly found himself in bad trouble (and then got a foul), leaving Hurricanes with no great option to deter Kansas at the edge and without their best 3-point shot to boot.
The bad news is that at least two of the Miami race’s engineers, McGusty and Charlie Moore, have exhausted their eligibility. Despite being a senior, Waardenburg could technically take its own COVID-19 season next year and decide to come back. But, at least at this point, it seems somewhat likely that the three of them have walked out the door.
But Miami coach Jim Laranaga may not face a full rebuild. Isaiah Wong showed stellar potential, and newbie Bensley Joseph had his moments. Add another year for players like Jordan Miller and Anthony Walker, and Laranaga a solid base before hitting the transfer gate, or the country’s 17th recruiting class arriving, according to 247Sports Composite.
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