Kansas 73, UConn 61: Jayhawks advance to Sweet Sixteen

For the first time since 2013, Kansas is going to the Sweet Sixteen. Three years without a second-weekend NCAA tournament stint is an eternity for a blueblood program like the Jayhawks, who were bounced prematurely in each of the last two seasons.

On Saturday, the top-seeded Jayhawks faced the potential of another second-round upset against the ninth-seeded UConn Huskies. Connecticut’s ability to play stout defense, score inside and convert at the free throw line made Saturday night’s matchup with Kansas intriguing.

The Jayhawks took only a few moments to remind the nation who the tournament favorite is.

After falling behind 5-2, Kansas used a 16-0 run to gain an enormous early advantage. Wayne Selden, who scored a combined 10 points in the 2014 and 2015 NCAA tournaments, eclipsed that total by the end of the first half. After the Huskies used a spurt of their own to bring the score back to 21-16, the Jayhawk defense locked down to hold UConn scoreless for more than seven minutes. On the offensive end, Kansas rattled off 19 straight points, and with less than four minutes remaining until halftime, it held a 40-16 lead.

Another highlight from the first half was Perry Ellis passing both Kirk Hinrich and Dave Robisch to move into the top-10 on the all-time Kansas scoring list. Ellis banged knees with a UConn player early in the game and he limped off the court in pain while Jayhawk fans everywhere held their collective breaths. A few minutes later, he returned to the game to fuel KU’s second push, jumping from 11th to ninth on the all-time scoring list in the process.

Ellis currently sits at 1,767 points. He has the opportunity to climb up the list further on Thursday, as he’s now just one point behind Paul Pierce (1,768) for eighth place.

Another tidbit: Ellis surpassed 600 points on the season, making him the first Jayhawk to do so since Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor in 2012.

In the second half, the Huskies made things uncomfortable for the Jayhawks as KU tried to close out the game. Kansas scored just six points in the first 10 minutes after halftime, allowing UConn to close the gap to single digits at 50-41 with 9:35 left. After a Jayhawk timeout, Selden made consecutive baskets to restore a double-digit advantage for KU, and the rest of the game was played with a double-digit cushion until the final minute.

With less than two minutes to go, it was Selden that found himself on the receiving end of a lob from Devonte’ Graham. With his famous uncle Anthony in attendance, Selden threw the pass home for a game-sealing dunk that ignited the Wells Fargo Center. Kansas closed the game with a 73-61 victory.

Selden finished with 22 points, which is a career-high in a tournament game for him. Ellis had 21 and eight rebounds.

For the eighth time in 13 years, a Bill Self-led Kansas team is in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s the first trip for many of the high-profile Jayhawk players, including Selden, Graham, Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas.

As for the Huskies, Sterling Gibbs led the way with 20 points. Head coach Kevin Ollie dropped an NCAA tournament game for the first time in his career. He had won his first seven.

The Jayhawks await the winner of Sunday’s contest between five-seed Maryland and 13-seed Hawaii. The Sweet Sixteen contest will take place on Thursday, March 24 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Notes:

  • Wayne Selden Jr.: 22 points (8/15 FG, 2/5 from three), seven rebounds, and three assists. He was the best player on the floor in an NCAA tournament game. That might be what makes Kansas the most dangerous.
  • Perry Ellis: 21 points (9/12 FG), and eight rebounds. He continues to be incredibly consistent, night-in and night-out. And finally, his name is now in the top-10 all-time scoring list.
  • Devonte’ Graham: 13 points (4/8 FG, 2/5 from three), and five rebounds. He continues to make big shot after big shot when Kansas needs one.
  • Frank Mason III: eight points (1/8 FG), five rebounds, and four assists. He’s really struggling to make shots in the tournament, but with the way his teammates are playing, it hasn’t mattered.
  • Landen Lucas: six points (2/4 FG) and a KU-high 12 rebounds. He also had four assists and three blocks. Once again, he was the best big man on the floor in an NCAA tournament game, and this one wasn’t against a 16-seed.
  • KU’s bench had just three points, two coming from Carlton Bragg.
  • Jamari Traylor didn’t score, but he had three vicious blocks that ignited the crowd.
  • Kansas: 49% from the floor, 35% from three, and 77% from the free throw line.
  • The Jayhawks outrebounded the Huskies, 44-24.

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.

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