MADISON, WIS. The Georgia Dome will feel like home, sweet home, to Kansas University's men's basketball players later this week.
The Atlanta arena, site of the 2002 Final Four, has been eyed by the Jayhawks before and after every single practice Â before and after every single game Â this season.
Master motivator Roy Williams made sure the Jayhawks' eyes were on the big prize when he plastered the picture of the Dome inside the door of each of the players' lockers in the preseason.
"It says on the picture, 'What are you gonna do today to get us to Atlanta?" junior forward Drew Gooden revealed after helping pave KU's road to the Final Four by grabbing 20 rebounds in KU's pulsating 104-86 NCAA Midwest Regional championship victory over Oregon on Sunday afternoon at Kohl Center.
"The picture of that dome reminded us that we can never have a bad practice, that it takes hard work every single day. The work, the effort we put in, paid off for us today."
You better believe hard work made a huge difference as KU outrebounded the Ducks, 63-34.
"They have two of the best offensive rebounders in the country," Frederick Jones, who led Oregon with 32 points, said of Gooden and Nick Collison. "They're long and lean and they crash the boards on every play."
Collison had 15 boards Â to go with 25 points Â and Kirk Hinrich and Keith Langford contributed nine and eight rebounds, respectively.
"After coach put that picture in my locker, I had a mental picture in my mind every day. I wanted to help us get to the Final Four," freshman Langford said after setting career highs in points (20), free throws (eight), rebounds and steals (three). "This team had a goal from Day One to get to the Final Four and another goal to not stop there. We have more work to do."
Williams acknowledged the picture of the dome helped rally the troops during a 33-3 season.
"I just wanted them to have a goal, and that's the biggest goal there is in college basketball," Williams said after the Jayhawks took turns clipping the nets after wrapping up the school's first Final Four berth since 1993. "I wanted it to be something they see every day."
KU's fleet big men, Gooden and Collison, each used different motivational techniques, along with the image of the Dome, to fire themselves and the team up on Sunday.
Gooden, who hit seven of 13 shots en route to 18 points, clipped his toenails prior to the contest. So did Aaron Miles, who had eight assists and three turnovers and did a nice job guarding Oregon playmaker Luke Ridnour, who missed 10 of 13 shots en route to nine points.
"I clipped my nails 'cause I knew I needed the wheels to roll," Gooden said after a game that resembled a playground contest at times. "Me and Aaron got our toenails cut. Right there we knew it'd be a running game."
Did a manicurist do the cutting?
"No," Gooden said, "I don't go there. I cut my own. My dogs are hurting now, but it was a fun game."
Collison, who erupted for 15 points and five boards to help KU to a 48-42 lead at halftime, wore headphones to listen to the violent rappings of Tupac Shakur while meditating in the locker room.
Then he took off the headgear and spoke up before the team hit the court.
"He was amped, fired up," Miles exclaimed. "He said, 'We've come this far. There's no stopping us now."
"It wasn't something appropriate as far as language-wise," Wayne Simien said of Collison's pep talk. "To sum it up, he said we've done all this hard work to get where to want to go. To choke it off today would be devastating."
Collison grinned when asked about his rantings.
"The guys may think I'm crazy or something," Collison said, "but it's the way I get fired up for the game. People probably laugh at me because I look so mad. I don't remember what I said. It was something in terms of, 'We gotta take it. Nobody is going to give it to us, we've got to play hard and take it.'''
Collison scored four points in a 16-5 run that opened a 34-21 KU lead with 9:47 left in the first half. He also had six points in a critical 8-2 run to close the first half, a run that came after Oregon outscored KU 12-0 in tying the game at 40.
"We knew it was where we wanted to go," Collison said of the inside. "We had an advantage down low in terms of speed. They had to respect our guards, so they didn't help down low. The rebounding was a big advantage for us. Oregon's guards are so good that I felt our big guys had to outplay their big guys."
Pestered by Miles, Jeff Boschee, Langford and others, Oregon guards Ridnour and perimeter player Luke Jackson hit just seven of 29 shots for 19 points. Jones, meanwhile, had 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting, while Anthony Lever hit three threes off the bench and scored 13 points.
The Jayhawks, who seemed a step faster than the Ducks a majority of the game, looked like they were in control after a 15-5 run gave KU a 73-59 lead with 9:49 left. Hinrich had four points and Simien three; six different players scored in that burst.
However, Lever hit a pair of threes and Oregon used a 10-2 run to cut the gap to 75-69 at 8:37.
KU led 77-72 following a Lever three at 5:06. Then the Jayhawks put the game away, courtesy of a 14-3 run.
"We just didn't have any more left," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "Their system overwhelmed our system. They were just relentless."
Langford and Gooden, who each made the All-Midwest Regional team with Collison, scored four apiece in the burst. Two points came when Langford ripped home a vicious follow slam off a Gooden miss. Collison had six in that run.
"Coach grabbed me in the second half and was upset. He told me to play like he knew Drew Gooden could play," Gooden said. "I said, 'Nothing is going for me offensively so I'm going to grab every damn rebound.'"
KU showed aggressiveness and toughness down the stretch. At one point, KU grabbed 10 straight rebounds after Oregon cut the gap to six.
"Coach Williams told us the game was going to be won on the boards," Gooden said. "Us being an experienced team, we bought into that. We knew that was the way we were going to beat them Â on the boards."
"I got on them a little bit in the first half and at halftime," Williams said of the big guys, "because I thought they were trying to be perimeter players. Drew and Wayne had turned it over on the perimeter. I told them we were going to win this game inside. I said, 'I don't need you guys to be perimeter players.' Drew took all that constructive criticism and 20 rebounds Â what more can you say?"
The Jayhawks were sloppy at times, committing 18 turnovers against 17 assists, yet it seemed inevitable in such a fast-paced game.
"I said to the kids, 'Stop turning it over so they'd have to score against our defense," Williams said. "We had more tired signals than any game this year."
"Yeah I'm tired," Portland native Miles said after beating a team from his home state. "But it's a good tired. We're going to Atlanta. We're going to the 'Four.' It's what we wanted all year. The 'Four.'''
KU will meet Maryland in next Saturday's NCAA semifinals. Tipoff will be about 7:47 p.m.