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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

1800: Next stop: New Orleans

Jayhawks clip ‘Cats, return to Final Four

The KU bench erupts after a Kirk Hinrich three pointer in the first half of the team's NCAA Tournament victory against Arizona. The Jayhawks defeated Arizona to secure the program's 1,800th victory.

The KU bench erupts after a Kirk Hinrich three pointer in the first half of the team's NCAA Tournament victory against Arizona. The Jayhawks defeated Arizona to secure the program's 1,800th victory.

March 30, 2003

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— Kirk Hinrich sat alone on Kansas University's bench, his head in his hands as his teammates practiced before Saturday's NCAA West Regional Final at Arrowhead Pond.

Hinrich, the Jayhawks' senior guard, appeared to be meditating before tipoff against No. 1-seeded Arizona.

"I was thinking about a lot of things. I think I just knew how big a game this was. I don't ever remember being so anxious and so giddy before a game," the 6-foot-3, Sioux City, Iowa, native said.

Hinrich was downright jubilant after scoring 28 points off 10-of-23 shooting in the Jayhawks' 78-75 victory over the Wildcats.

It was a victory that avenged a 17-point loss to Arizona (28-4) Jan. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse and propelled KU (29-7) into the Final Four for the second straight year.

"I think I just knew how big a game this was," said Hinrich, dismayed after scoring just two points in Thursday's Sweet 16 victory over Duke. "I was so into it. I knew against Duke I wasn't the aggressor. I got frustrated early and rushed the shots and let my teammates down.

"Today, if I was going to go down, I was going to go down fighting and play my butt off."

Hinrich, who wore one of the Pond's nets as a necklace after the game, was KU's most active offensive player on a day fellow senior Nick Collison scored eight points off 2-of-7 shooting after potting 33 versus Duke.

Hinrich also came up with the defensive play of the game.

He blocked a possible game-tying three-point shot by Jason Gardner with 3.8 seconds left. Next, after Luke Walton grabbed the deflection, Hinrich raced to the corner again to guard the 5-11 Gardner, who accepted a pass from Walton and misfired on a three with two-tenths of a second left.

"I knew they needed a three," Hinrich said of the final sequence, which started as Arizona inbounded to Gardner 94 feet from the basket with 7.1 seconds left.

"When they were coming downcourt, I was expecting a ball screen. When it didn't come, and when it started getting in his range, I knew he was going to shoot. My height helped me," Hinrich said.

Gardner, who scored 23 points off 3-of-10 three-point shooting, went down swinging.

"I felt I had a good look. I just missed off the back of the rim," he said.

KU coach Roy Williams, who told Keith Langford and Michael Lee to foul if the ball came their direction, groaned when Hinrich's block sailed right to Walton, who immediately dished to Gardner in the corner.

"I was very concerned when Kirk blocked it and they came up with the loose ball. Usually it's the second one that goes in. That would have been a tough one to handle," Williams said.

The Jayhawks, who led by as many as 16 points the first half (31-15 at 9:36) and 14 points (56-42 at 14:11) the second half, actually trailed, 68-66, after a Hassan Adams hoop with 5:59 left.

Hinrich immediately responded with a three that gave the Jayhawks a 69-68 lead. Walton, however, hit one of two free throws at 4:52 to tie the contest.

KU's Keith Langford broke the tie by hitting one of two free throws at 4:31. Then, after an Arizona turnover, power forward Jeff Graves tipped in a Hinrich miss at 3:12, giving KU a 72-69 advantage.

It was a huge offensive rebound and basket for Graves, who had a career-high 15 boards to go with 13 points.

"It was instinct," Graves said, "or me remembering how many times coach says, 'Crash, crash the boards.'''

Walton (18 points, 10 boards) hit one free throw and Aaron Miles two with 2:22 left as KU grabbed a comfy 74-70 lead. But Walton cashed a three at 1:59, slicing the gap to 74-73.

Enter Langford, who, after Collison and Gardner traded two pointers, sliced through the lane to score at :52, giving KU a 78-75 lead.

Langford -- he hit just five of 15 shots -- wasn't shy about shooting thanks to Hinrich, who gave him a pep talk, grabbing him at halfcourt and putting his arm around the sophomore during a brief stoppage of play midway through the half.

"Kirk told me I'd make a big play before the game was over. He said, 'We need you,''' Langford said. "It was one of the worst games I've had in a while, but Kirk gave me extra confidence."

Langford then held his ground, taking a charge as Walton plowed into him with 35 seconds left. That play came on Arizona's next-to-last possession.

"To tell you the truth, I used up all my energy on the play before, getting to the basket," Langford said. "I stood in there and he ran over me."

Langford learned his lesson earlier in the game when fouling the 6-foot-8 Walton as he hoisted an inside shot.

"Coach Williams told me to step in the lane and try to take a charge and not block the shot," Langford said. "I just listened to coach."

Truthfully, he was glad the ball went to Hinrich's man -- Gardner -- on the game's final possession.

"Coach told me to foul my man. I wasn't crazy about fouling anybody that late in the game. I was glad he (Gardner) came down and took the three. I was like, 'He missed it,' and I went looking for somebody to hug," Langford said.

And, yes, it was sweet holding off Arizona. Remember, the Wildcats trailed KU by 20 points at Allen Fieldhouse before rallying to win. KU didn't want to be accused of squandering a 16-point lead this time.

"The thing I was most proud of," Williams said, "was we were very aggressive. We were attacking, and all of a sudden they made the huge run right before the half."

Arizona used a 13-0 run to cut a 38-22 deficit to three points at halftime.

"I challenged our guys in the locker room," Williams said. "I told them we would not give in because a lot of teams would, and we were going to go back and attack. I thought that's what we did."

Indeed, KU built a 56-42 lead thanks to a 14-2 surge, then held on at the end.

"Our kids kept playing. I thought we hustled, dove for every loose ball the entire game," Williams said.

The Jayhawks will meet upstart Marquette in a Final Four game Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans.

"It's the best feeling in the world," Hinrich said, "to show the toughness we did today. We could have quit when they caught us. We didn't. It just really feels good to go back to the Final Four."

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