Sports

The aftermath proved crucial throughout the Final Four

NEW ORLEANS – David McCormack’s two late baskets in the color to help Kansas pass North Carolina during the NCAA championship game followed a Final Four trend.

The way the teams played in the post had a big impact on how the games turned out.

McCormack scored the final four points of Monday night’s national title game, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds in Kansas’ 72-69 triumph.

“It shows how much confidence the coach (Bill Self) and teammates have in me,” McCormack said. “The coach called the play and said we’re going to throw it in and we have faith in you and trust in you to basket and get us. I simply asserted myself, I made the basket. I appreciate them for giving me this opportunity.”

Late-game heroics capped a memorable Final Four for the Jayhawks’ big man.

McCormack’s final basket came after Tar Heels center Armando Bacot, whose strong start helped North Carolina to a 15-point half-time lead, needed help getting onto the bench after suffering an ankle injury in the second half of his influential semifinal performance on Saturday night.

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In Saturday’s semifinal game against Villanova, the Wildcats lacked the size to deal with the 6-foot-10 McCormack, who was two inches superior to anyone guarding him. He threw down several thunderous dunks and repeatedly motioned for the Kansas fans to “raise the roof of the Superdome” on his way to a game-high 25 points.

The Jayhawks delivered an 81-65 win that saw them lead by double digits for most of the second half.

Bacot, meanwhile, outplayed Duke’s post players in the other semifinal.

With 7-1 Duke center Mark Williams in foul trouble and only 16 minutes to play, Bacot was able to take command of the paint and grabbed 21 rebounds to go with his 11 points. Williams finished with eight points and four rebounds, and the Tar Heels clinched an 81-77 win.

After McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot were limited 6-8 by the Jayhawks in the first half of the finals by foul problems, Bacot had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes despite a sore ankle. The Tar Heels led by as much as 16 points late in the first half.

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But McCormack held his own in the second half when he had nine points and seven rebounds. Bacot was limited to just three points and five rebounds in the final 20 minutes as Kansas beat the Tar Heels by 18 to make the biggest comeback in a title game in an NCAA tournament.

Bacot said playing McCormack while limping “was definitely tough just because he’s a bigger guy.”

“I couldn’t press anything on my post-ups the entire game, defensively or anything,” Bacot added. “It was just hard for me to really assert myself.”

McCormack just wasn’t going to be turned down all the way. The first of the late baskets came after rebounding his own miss and putting the ball back over two defenders.

“The game is at stake. They have adrenaline pumps. You have a wish that you’re going to get it,” McCormack said. “Grab a rebound with two hands. The coach talks about holding the ball up and going straight back up. That went through my head. I’m here, we work on touch shots every day. I can use both hands. … Get a quick basket and get back on defense.

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While Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji was named the Final Four Most Valuable Player, the high-scoring guard said he didn’t vote for himself but for his dominant teammate from below.

“If I really had one standout player throughout the Final Four, it would be David,” said Agbaji.

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Dais Johnston

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