Josh Jackson grabbed his things and shut the door behind him. He left the hotel and climbed on the bus that would take him to the University of Phoenix Stadium. Frank Mason was sitting in the back of the bus, his headphones in, listening to music while staring out the window intently. His teammates were silent the entire ride, except for a moment when Svi sloshed Gatorade on Lagerald, and that produced a laugh. The bus rumbled to a stop. And as the team cleared the bus, a sign became visible on the stadium’s back entrance: “Welcome to Phoenix.”
Landen Lucas was the last man in the locker room. He was talking to the assistant coaches about the game plan, and how he was to execute it. Many of the Jayhawk basketball players were already dressing for their pregame practice, anxious to explore the NFL-sized University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. Kansas had a productive practice, which, per usual, included a Devonte’ Graham half court shot.
As the team gathered in their locker room to go over final preparation, Frank Mason grabbed one of his four Big 12 championship rings. Mason had never felt the bright lights of a national championship game, but here he was now. He sat down the ring, feeling unsatisfied. His gut wrenched as he remembered each of the times his team had fallen in the tournament. The 60-57 loss to Stanford, the loss to Wichita State in the second round, and finally, as last year’s No. 1 overall seed, a loss to Villanova in his junior season. He didn’t want it to happen again.
It was game time. Kansas, the number two overall seed and number one seed in the Midwest, would meet the No. 1 Villanova Wildcats in what would be an ecstatic national championship game. The Jayhawks were already hot off of a 78-64 rematch victory over Duke in the Final Four, which was their toughest opponent since their loss against West Virginia in the Big 12 championship game.
The team trotted out of the tunnel and onto the floor for warmups. The 70,000-seat stadium was already filling up, but the players didn’t notice. This was the last time on the court for Frank Mason and Landen Lucas, but they didn’t think much about that. This was the first time in a national championship game for Kansas since 2012, but that didn’t matter. The Jayhawks were locked in, ready for their big shot at the college basketball crown.
Frank Mason was already having a player of the year performance. In his final game with Kansas, the senior got off to a fast start, scoring seven points in the first three minutes of the game. Landen Lucas was having trouble with the Wildcats in the paint. Sweat was developing from his forehead; the desert heat felt like it had entered the stadium. Two Josh Hart buckets put the Wildcats up by seven, and Bill Self called a timeout to recuperate the Jayhawk starters. Immediately following the break, Jackson found Devonte’ Graham in the corner, prompting a smooth shot that looked like it was in slow motion. It swished through the bottom of the net.
Kansas was getting outplayed, and it showed. Josh Jackson was rejected at the rim going for a highlight reel dunk, and he was almost ejected as he said some words to the official. The Jayhawks had fallen to a 13-point deficit at the half, freezing the state of Arizona with an icy 27% from the field. The locker room was uncharacteristic. A team that had only suffered a loss twice all season suddenly felt the weight of defeat. All the focus that could be seen in the pregame was lost. The Jayhawks have seen their fair share of halftime deficits, even one to Oklahoma, who finished second-to-last in the Big 12 conference regular season. The negative thoughts came back into Frank Mason’s mind. All of the early tournament exits re-spawned, as did the moments he would face in the locker room after the game. Although it was not audible, everyone in the room knew that they had to come out in the second half on fire.
Josh Hart took a glance up at the gigantic arena scoreboard. Villanova’s lead was just three with seven minutes to go. Kansas had started the second half on fire, quickly trimming the Wildcats’ lead. But they couldn’t quite get over the hump. Kansas would score a bucket and get the crowd into it, but Villanova would answer and it would kill the KU fans watching.
Much like the national championship in 2016, this game would go down to the wire. Kansas led the Wildcats, 76-75. Villanova had possession of the ball with :17 seconds left in the game. Josh Hart took it into the lane and was fouled by Landen Lucas. Hart sunk both free throws, giving him his 19th and 20th points, and Villanova took a 77-76 lead. Seven seconds remaining; Kansas ball.
Landen Lucas took the ball from the official, and his five seconds to toss the ball began. Villanova, like Kansas State, covered Frank Mason hard, so Landen found Lagerald Vick at midcourt. The heave was controlled by Vick, and coming out from behind was Frank Mason, who caught a Vick pass in-stride. Mason, frantically driving and looking at the game clock, saw everything slow down in front of him. The construction project wasn’t finished. Frank bulldozed through the defense and softly laid it up off the glass. The horn sounded, and for a very brief moment, everyone was silent. The ball fell through the hoop, and Kansas had won the national championship.
Fireworks exploded and cheers rang out from the crowd. Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk tackled Mason on the floor into a pile of fresh confetti. A nine-season championship drought had ended for Bill Self. Meanwhile, in Lawrence, the party on Mass Street was already in full swing. Mason’s end-of-the-game basket was coined “The Shot II,” but it was very far from that. Kansas created its own destiny. Not from past Jayhawks, or any of the other “13 straight” streak teams. Here is to another Rock Chalk Championship!
This article was a foreshadowing of a possible 2017 Kansas Jayhawk national championship. Now, let’s make it happen!
Nick Weippert is a contributor for Rock Chalk Blog. Follow him on Twitter here.