For the second straight year, they sweated it out in front of a big television set. For the second straight year, “Kansas” appeared on the screen.
“My heart started racing superfast,” senior guard Angel Goodrich said.
Screams of joy and relief — and a few tears — from a team that finished 18-3, 8-10 in the Big 12, and wasn’t projected to be in the 64-team field by ESPN.com. In fact, the Jayhawks weren’t even in the first four out of that projection.
KU is the 12th seed in the Norfolk Regional and will face Colorado on Saturday in Boulder, Colo.
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If the Jayhawks advance, they will face the winner of No. 4 seed South Carolina and No. 13 South Dakota State on Monday for a spot in the regional semifinals.
The Jayhawks were an 11 seed last year before upsetting No. 6 Nebraska and No. 3 Delaware on their way to the Sweet 16.
“It’s where we think we belong,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “It’s where need to be. It’s what we aspire to do.”
Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be this hard. The Jayhawks returned Goodrich, an All-America candidate at point guard iand Carolyn Davis, a standout post who suffered a torn ACL before last season’s tourney run.
The Jayhawks climbed into the Top 25 while starting the season 11-2, but they stumbled in conference play before losing five of their last seven. They suffered another blow when sophomore guard Natalie Knight went down with an ACL injury in a victory over Iowa State on Jan. 30.
Last year, Henrickson said, the Jayhawks picked up a signature win at Oklahoma in the regular season’s final stretch. This year, that marquee win never came. And it made for some anxious moments on Selection Monday.
“I started to get a little worried,” Goodrich said, “and was thinking about all the different thoughts: If we’re gonna get in, if weren’t not gonna get in.
“It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
In many ways, the Jayhawks were carried into the Big Dance on the strength of the Big 12, which features defending champion and top-ranked Baylor. KU finished seventh in the Big 12, but all six teams ahead of it made the NCAA Tournament.
The hope — and Henrickson has been full of hope late lately — is that the Jayhawks will make the most of their second life. The formula worked last season. And they’ll get a chance to replicate it against Colorado, another former Big 12 team ranked 19th in the final AP poll.
Davis, a senior center, was on the sideline for last year’s run. And that made another tourney appearance even sweeter.
“I cried a little bit,” Davis said. “Just to know that you’ve worked so hard for this, and this is what I’ve wanted since I was a freshman. And getting it last year, and not being able to experience it the way my teammates did, it was hard. It was an emotional time for me.”