The Jayhawks’ Bill Self is the mastermind of the epic championship comeback

NEW ORLEANS – In a national championship game that no one in Kansas will soon forget, Bill Self went from Hall of Fame coach who failed too many times on the big stage to brilliant mastermind of the greatest second-half comeback in NCAA history- title games.

The Jayhawks were mostly blitzed by brave North Carolina for the first 20 minutes Monday night, digging a seemingly insurmountable 40-25 hole. The Jayhawks rallied for a 72-69 win over the Tar Heels in the boisterous Superdome.

Self managed to calm his disjointed team in the dressing room and then got it back on track: slam the ball in to David McCormack, ride Remy Martin’s hot hand and make crucial stops in the closing minutes.

McCormack finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds and dueled the battered Carolina Big Man Armando Bacot all night in the paint. Martin threw in 11 of his 14 points after the break, while Jalen Wilson also had 15 points – including a couple of big baskets early in the second half when the Jayhawks managed to turn a blowout into a ball game.


It’s the fourth title for the Jayhawks and the second for Self, who claimed his first when another bunch of comeback kids rallied to beat Memphis in overtime in 2008. And that one won on the same Superdome floor that Kentucky Kansas contested in the Finals a decade ago, one of the many heartbreaks Self and his team have experienced over the years.

There was the 2010 team that spent much of the season at No. 1 but lost in the second round of the tournament, and the following year the Jayhawks didn’t lose until late January but were knocked into the Elite Eight by VCU.

There was also the overtime loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16 and consecutive years in which Kansas failed to make it past the tournament’s opening weekend. And more recently, beating Villanova at the 2018 Final Four — which Kansas avenged Saturday night — and being eliminated in the second round in each of the previous two NCAA tournaments.


The Tar Heels appeared to add another layer of heartache early in Monday’s game.

They dominated the offensive glass in the first half and made second-chance baskets almost at will while Kansas endured long periods of offensive incompetence. Martin was 1-for-5 from the field, his only hit a jangling 3-pointer from backboard, and Wilson and Christian Braun were a 2-for-13 combination from the floor.

At halftime, Self referenced the Jayhawks’ comeback with his team at the 2008 national championship and asked if they’d rather fall behind by nine with two minutes left – like that night – or by 15 with 20 minutes to play.

It took me about 10 minutes to learn her answer.

The trio of Braun, McCormack and Wilson went to work to start the second half, erasing North Carolina’s lead and eventually even drawing when Ochai Agbaji – the Final Four MVP – made a three-point play with 10 :53 converted before the end.


It was a back and forth from there until McCormack collected his own rebound and got a basket to walk at 1:16 in the game. Bacot turned the ball around at the other end and his sprained ankle from the semifinals against Duke eventually gave out. Then McCormack added another basket with 22.3 seconds left to give the Jayhawks some breathing room.

Caleb Love and Puff Johnson both missed 3-point attempts, then North Carolina got one last chance when Dajuan Harris turned the ball over with 4.3 seconds left. The Tar Heels brought the ball back to Love, the hero of their dramatic victory over the Blue Devils, but his shot went wide as the clock ran out and confetti fell from the rafters.

The comeback broke the record for the largest halftime deficit overcome in a championship game, set by Kentucky in 1998 as it rallied to beat Utah. It also broke the record for each Final Four comeback of 11 set by Duke’s Rally to Maryland in 2001 and Temple when it defeated Kansas State in the 1958 third place game.



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Dais Johnston

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