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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Final Four!

Kansas headed to New Orleans after defeating Arizona, 78-75

March 30, 2003

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Kirk Hinrich blocked a shot. Jason Gardner missed a three-pointer. The buzzer sounded, preserving Kansas University's 78-75 victory and a trip to this week's Final Four in New Orleans.

And in Section 206, row E, seat 13, Dave Kennedy hiked up his shirt.

"THROW ME THE BEADS!" the KU fan yelled, displaying his chest and reveling in the Carnival-like atmosphere. "THROW ME THE BEADS! THROW ME THE BEADS!"

On the court below, KU players and coaches took turns cutting down the net at the Arrowhead Pond. Fans serenaded the team with the "Rock Chalk Chant," and the pep band took a shot at playing "When the Saints Go Marching In."

And in Lawrence, strangers hugged, at least a few women flashed their chests and beer-drinkers on the porch of Free State Brewery chose a celebratory target.

"Burn down the Gap!" they yelled. "Burn down the Gap!"

The Gap was spared, but the revelry continued into the early-morning hours.

The celebration came after KU fed off Hinrich's 28 points to topple the favored Wildcats, who came in as the NCAA Tournament West Region's top seed, having already won Jan. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse. But leading up to the final exciting moments, there was plenty of apprehension.

"I think we're in trouble," said Ron McCrary, who breathed easy for a few minutes during halftime at The Red Lyon in downtown Lawrence. "We've got to play like we were. Slow it down a little."

George Conforti, who graduated from KU in 1988, the last year the Jayhawks won it all, was also nervous.

"We could be up by 30 points and I'd still be nervous," he said.

As the clock wound down on televisions at Jefferson's, a downtown nightspot, one KU fan set a ceramic bunny on the edge of his table.

Mike Soderling said his 5-year-old daughter Trenna -- who "knows how I react during the game" -- had given it to him with a few minutes left in Thursday's game against Duke. The Jayhawks won that one 69-65.

"The bunny's been with us ever since," he said. "We've got 2:30 to go."

But when those two and a half minutes were over, KU fans began parading around Lawrence for hours. On campus there were fireworks and dozens of people screaming and pumping fists in the backs of pick-up trucks.

Police officers pushed crowds back onto the sidewalks in front of Strong and Wescoe halls, although few, if any, arrests were reported by late Saturday. People skipped and cartwheeled down Massachusetts Street.

"I knew we were going to win," said Ladea Chansaviang, a Lawrence native and KU junior who said he'd been waiting since 1988 for the Jayhawks to make another run at the title.

How was he planning to celebrate?

"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information at this time," he said.

But others were: "Alcohol!" screamed KU senior and Rose Hill native Tess Smith.

Wildcats wowed

Lawrence fans weren't the only ones impressed by the Jayhawks' ability to turn the tables. Back in Anaheim, one particularly tall Wildcat supporter could only smile and shake his head as he lumbered out of the arena after the game.

"They played with intensity and were great on the boards, with great individual performances -- Kirk Hinrich tonight and Nick Collison against Duke," said Bill Walton, NBA Hall of Famer and father of Arizona's Luke Walton. "That's a fantastic team. It was a great ball game, and the better team won."

Beating Arizona means KU will play Marquette in a national semifinal Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans. The Golden Eagles, seeded third in the Midwest region, dispatched top-seed Kentucky earlier Saturday.

"I figured it was a bad day all around for Wildcats," said Kay Honeycutt of Olathe, who booked her trip to New Orleans a month ago. "All those people who thought KU wasn't a No. 1 seed, they were wrong. We kicked Arizona's little tail."

Regional championships today will fill the other half of the Final Four. Texas and Oklahoma, both No. 1 seeds, would advance with victories.

"I bet it'll be a Big 12 final," said a confident John Hadl, KU associate athletics director.

"It'll be a tough chore against another Big 12 team, because we know each other so well," said Catherine Holland, also looking ahead. "We're not done yet!"

Marquette up next

But Scott Palmberg, a KU sophomore, knows better than to look past Marquette. The team from Wisconsin sports a dominant scorer, a running style and plenty of momentum heading into the Final Four.

"We showed a lot of heart today," he said, wearing a basketball net on his head. "But we've still got to play."

Robby Graves, older brother of KU forward Jeff Graves, warned security guards in the waning seconds that he would be storming the court. But he later decided to watch from the stands as his brother climbed the ladder, a pair of shiny scissors in his hand.

"I'm so proud of my brother," Robby Graves said. "I'm glad he's able to accomplish one of his goals so early in his life, but this is only the first step. It's not over."

Kirk Cerny, a vice president with the Kansas University Alumni Association, promises to play plenty in New Orleans. He's ordered more than 5,000 strands of crimson-and-blue basketball beads for the trip to the Crescent City, home to the French Quarter and its unique brand of entertainment.

Cerny will be selling the strands for $2 apiece, but he expects there to be a large secondary market for Jayhawk beads on Bourbon Street.

"We will use them for all things that can be negotiated and traded for," he said with a smile. "Including victories and a championship."

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