KANSAS CITY, MO. — North Carolina held a nine-point halftime lead here against Kansas and was 20 minutes away from a record 32nd trip to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Then it all unraveled and the Jayhawks, who’d played so poorly in the first half, stormed back for a 70-58 victory yesterday.
Kansas advanced to the South Regional semifinals next week in Arlington, Texas.
The Tar Heels (25-11) led by as many as 11 late in the first half, and led 30-21 at halftime. It took about five and a half minutes for the Jayhawks (30-6) to erase their deficit and tie the game at 35 with 15 minutes and 31 seconds to play. Kansas took the lead for good on its next possession, when Travis Releford tipped in a missed shot.
That was a theme for Kansas during the second half: production from Releford. And points close to the basket.
The Jayhawks were awful offensively during the first half, in part because UNC successfully defended the interior and forced 12 Kansas turnovers. But the Jayhawks were much more efficient during the second half, when Releford, the senior guard, scored 13 of his game-high 22 points.
Kansas shot 25 percent in the first half, but 63 percent in the second.
Releford was only part of his team’s offensive success in the second half. Jeff Withey, limited to just four points in the first 20 minutes, scored 12 in the second. Withey, the 7-foot senior center, also added 16 rebounds and blocked five shots.
UNC successfully defended him early on by double-teaming with a guard. The strategy frustrated Withey offensively, but Kansas did a better job of allowing him to operate in space during the second half. After halftime, the Jayhawks routinely beat UNC’s defense for layups.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, struggled to score throughout the game. They built their first-half lead despite shooting 26.2 percent — their second-worst shooting performance in a half this season. But thanks to Kansas’ 12 turnovers and UNC’s 10 offensive rebounds, UNC at halftime had attempted 14 more shots from the field than Kansas.