BIG ON BIG
North Carolina out-rebounded Ohio by 33. Kansas blocked 11 North Carolina State shots and scored 44 of its 60 points in the paint.
On Friday, it was easy to see which team enjoyed a height advantage. Sunday, it’s a much closer pairing. By count of KU coach Bill Self, five of the big men will eventually play in the NBA — Jayhawks Thomas Robinson (6-foot-10) and Jeff Withey (7-0), and Tar Heels John Henson (6-11), Tyler Zeller (7-0) and James Michael McAdoo (6-9).
“I’m definitely expecting a physical game, and I wouldn’t expect anything less than that going against a 7-footer and John Henson, who has the longest arms in the country,” Robinson said.
KU’s first priority will be guarding Zeller, who averages 16.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. He can score with either hand and makes 55.3 percent of his shots. He scored 20 points and grabbed 22 rebounds, a school tournament record, against Ohio.
“He can step away (from the basket) and his jumper is pretty good,” Robinson said. “He is much bigger than I thought. I walked past him yesterday and he is huge.”
Withey blocked 10 shots against N.C. State, which plays forwards in the post. Zeller is a different challenge.
“I’m going to try to put my hands in his face and try to alter his shot,” Withey said. “He can shoot the ball from 15 feet. He has a really good jump hook and it’s going to be tough to guard him.”
Self knows Zeller is especially dangerous with point guard Kendall Marshall getting the ball to him before the defense can organize. Zeller’s long strides make him a unique threat.
“The thing he does as well as any big man in the country is he runs and he runs every possession,” Self said. “Kendall is so good at pitching the ball ahead. If he runs 25 possessions a game, he’ll get him six points just off of his effort running. That’s a huge challenge.”
Ohio didn’t challenge North Carolina with future NBA big men such as Withey and Robinson.
“They’re two big me that are playing very well together,” Henson said. “They’re tough to score on.”
COLD IN MARCH
Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor didn’t need to be reminded of his shooting struggles in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the topic came up early in Saturday’s news conference.
“Thanks for that,” Taylor said, smiling after being told he had never made a three-pointer inside a dome during the NCAA Tournament.
KU survived when Taylor went 4 for 11 against Purdue and 2 for 14 against North Carolina State. But he has especially struggled from three-point range. A 43.5-percent shooter coming into the NCAA Tournament, Taylor is 0 for 12 in three tourney games. And during his career, he is 0 for 12 from the three-point line inside domed stadiums. In 12 NCAA games over four seasons, Taylor is 3 of 32 from three-point range.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I’m going to keep shooting it confidently.”
Self wants to believe the Jayhawks are due to shoot better after their efforts against Purdue (33.9 percent) and N.C. State (37.5). Kansas is 7 of 38 from three-point range in those two games.
“The big thing is we have got to do some things offensively to run better offense, so we’re getting shots in rhythm,” he said. “We’ll just attack (today) the same way we attack every day. Those guys will be aggressive and confident. I’ve always been a believer that it’s a good or bad shot when it leaves your hand, not if it goes in or not. And that’s what I told the guys.”
D FOR DESPERATION
Self said this team ranks as one of his best defensive units, in part because it knows it must stop scorers to win. The Jayhawks lack the offensive punch to cover up weak defensive efforts.
“If you look at some of the worst games that we played this year, (they) were games when we made shots early,” Self said. “When we do, guys have a tendency to relax sometimes defensively. And with North Carolina, you can’t get in a scoring contest.”
That hasn’t been a problem often for KU. It ranks sixth nationally in shooting defense by holding opponents to 37.8 percent. In three NCAA games, no team shot better than 40 percent against the Jayhawks.
“I think we might try a little bit harder defensively because we understand that it might be nights where we’re not hot offensively,” Taylor said. “We kind of tried to hang our hats on being a good defensive team. Sometimes we let that get away from us, but that’s won us some big games.”
Taylor has company in North Carolina’s Barnes, who went 3 for 16 (and 2 for 9 from three-point range) against Ohio.
“You can still contribute with good effort defensively, get on the boards, just getting out in the passing lanes and just making those effort plays,” Barnes said. “It’s not necessarily all about shots.”
NO MEANS NO
After being told Self is open to the idea of playing a home-and-home series with North Carolina, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was asked if he would be for such a series.
“No,’’ he said.
And his news conference continued.
A reporter later asked him to expand on the reasons, which he did.
“Too emotional for me,’’ said Williams, who coached at Kansas for 15 seasons before leaving for North Carolina after the 2002-03 season. “That’s the bottom line. When somebody mentions (KU radio play-by-play broadcaster) Bob Davis to me, it makes me smile. And when somebody mentions Allen Fieldhouse to me, that’s exactly what I think about is all those positive thoughts and I don’t want to go in there as the coach of the opposing team.’’
Williams admitted to not feeling well during Carolina’s overtime win over Ohio on Friday night and told reporters he has been battling a cold for three weeks.
But he’s been battling vertigo since he was a teenager and continues to have bouts, as was the case again Friday.
“I’m a yeller and I’m trying to get information out to my guys and I don’t think they can hear me,’’ Williams said. “So I’m trying to yell louder. And all of a sudden, I feel this pain in my temples and things start to get a little dizzy and I go black for two or three seconds. And it happened more (Friday) night than in any game that I’ve ever coached.’’
Williams said he felt better Saturday.
“When I was at Kansas, they got worried about this one time and sneaked me into the hospital one night and ran all these tests,’’ he said. “I don’t know that they really cared that much about me or just didn’t want me to die on their watch.’’
NO NEED TO WORRY
North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock said his left knee is fine. He gave Tar Heel fans a scare early in the second half on Friday when the knee buckled.
Bullock missed last season’s NCAA Tournament because of surgery on that knee. He returned to play on Friday and said everything is good.
“It just scared me a bit because I was thinking like I hope it’s not another time for me not being able to play,” Bullock said. “A player tried to box me out and he just came to my knee level and it just buckled back.”
Bullock was a latecomer to Saturday’s interview sessions.
“Reggie is getting stretched out,” Williams said. “He got his knee whacked a little bit. So we’re just doing some extra stretching on him.”
North Carolina leads the series 6-3, with the teams splitting four NCAA games. KU won the most recent meeting, an 84-66 win in the 2008 national semifinal in San Antonio.… KU is 6-1 in tournament games in St. Louis and 5-1 in the Edward Jones Dome.… North Carolina can reach the Final Four for the 19th time, extending its own NCAA record. The Tar Heels won the 2005 NCAA title in St. Louis, its only other appearance in the city.… Who holds the Tar Heel record for most turnovers in an NCAA game? Former Wichita State coach Eddie Fogler, with 11 against Drake in the 1969 national third-place game.