New Orleans -- Tyshawn Taylor sympathized with Kansas’ supporters Sunday.
The Jayhawks, he said, haven’t intentionally induced panic and meltdowns among their fan base via their dramatic NCAA tournament wins.
But they can’t seem to avoid them.
Unlike Kentucky, the squad they’ll face in the national title game Monday at the Superdome, the Jayhawks’ lane to New Orleans was littered with late-game obstacles that repeatedly threatened their postseason vitality.
“Walking that tight rope in March is OK because you survive and advance and that’s what it’s about,” Taylor said Sunday.
The Jayhawks don’t believe they’re playing with fire.
Instead, they choose to view their tight NCAA tourney wins as proof of their maturity.
Detroit didn’t give the Jayhawks much trouble in the second round.
But they needed a late turnover and an Elijah Johnson layup to escape Purdue in the third, after the Boilermakers held a 10-point advantage early in the second half.
They beat North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 by 3 -- again with Johnson's help in the final seconds. And even though North Carolina played without Kendall Marshall, Kansas led the Tar Heels by one with just fewer than 4 minutes to go in that Elite Eight matchup.
The Jayhawks’ comeback effort against Ohio State Saturday in the Final Four captured the squad’s entire postseason experience. Just when it seemed safe to assume the Jayhawks were on their way back to Lawrence, Kan., they finished strong and their opponents unraveled.
The Buckeyes led most of the game until a late run put the Jayhawks ahead in the final seconds. Even with the win nearly locked up, however, they still managed to create more suspense.
Taylor robbed William Buford on the in-bounds with 6 seconds left.
And then, he threw the ball away with 3.6 seconds to play.
“I don’t think I’m past the point of worrying. They tell me quite often, ‘Coach, next play. … We’re all right,’” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “But these guys do give coaches confidence because they have done it repeatedly. It seems like when it kind of looks like it’s not going our way the most is when, they kind of rise to the challenge and play their best.”
Dramatic victories have become the norm for the Jayhawks.
The Wildcats, however, didn’t play their first thriller until Louisville launched a second-half comeback that put them on the ropes in the final minutes of their Final Four win against their archrivals.
Kentucky is the only team that’s defeated the Jayhawks by double digits this season (75-65 Nov. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York City).
But the Jayhawks said they’re a different team compared to the one that lost to Wildcats in their second game of the year.
They pointed to their climactic victories as a crucial factor in their growth.
“I know it’s crazy how we keep coming back, but all that matters at the end of the day is that we got the win. People feel like we got lucky to get here, but we still had to play those games and make those comebacks,” said junior forward Thomas Robinson. “We had to get those stops and that’s not luck, that’s us playing. I don’t like how it’s happened, but it’s happening here, so I really don’t care how we got here.”
Some squads fall apart under those conditions. But the Jayhawks tend to become more cohesive against strenuous circumstances.
It happened when they faced Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.
Players didn’t say that they anticipated a similar back-and-forth flow against the talented Wildcats. But if that’s the kind of game that unfolds, they believe they’ll benefit.
“If it comes down to a grind-out game, we’ve been in those situations before. Hopefully, it does,” said Travis Releford. “It would probably play in favor for us because, like I said, we’ve been in those situations before and we know how to handle it. So if it comes down to it, I think we’ll be prepared for it.”