NEW ORLEANS — Get ready for Blue Monday.
Kansas is back in the NCAA championship game. So is Kentucky. They meet on Monday in the Superdome and may the Biggest Blue win.
On Saturday night, Kansas survived a halftime deficit to beat Ohio State 64-62 and advance to the title game for the ninth time and the second in New Orleans.
The winner will add to a college basketball history that ranks among the elite. Kentucky ranks first with 2,089 wins; Kansas is next with 2,070. Kentucky owns seven NCAA titles and 15 Final Fours. Kansas has three and 14.
This is for bragging rights at the top of the A-list. Teams already possessing three or more titles met once previously in the championship 1975, when UCLA defeated Kentucky.
Kentucky handled Louisville 69-61 in the first semifinal. Louisville coach Rick Pitino lost to the Wildcats twice this season and knows their status as tournament favorite is no fluke.
Are they beatable? Pitino said. No question. But youre going to have to play great offense, great defense and youve got to bring your A-plus game and they have to have a B game.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his team didnt play to its peak on Saturday. The state rivalry game brought out the best in the Superdome crowd, sparking an atmosphere difficult to attain in a football stadium with 73,361 fans. The Wildcats didnt trail after the first two minutes of the game. Louisville tied it at 49-all midway through the second half before the Wildcats took control.
We played good, but that wasnt our best, he said. So maybe Monday is our best.
Kansas played less than its best in the first half against Ohio State, continuing a trend of fighting uphill and finishing fast in this tournament. The Jayhawks committed nine turnovers and trailed by as many as 13 points five times. They closed the gap early in the second half and tied it 38-all. Two free throws by Travis Releford gave KU a 56-55 lead with 2:48 remaining. Ohio State took a 59-56 lead before the Jayhawks ran off six straight points.
KU and UK will meet for the first time in a final. They split two previous tournament games, Kansas winning in 2007 and Kentucky in 1999, both in sub-regionals.
Kansas returns to the championship game for the first time since defeating Memphis, coached by Calipari, in 2008. The Wildcats will play in their 10th title game, their first since Pitinos team won it in 1996 against Utah.