Thomas Robinson missed 10 shots and failed to reach a double-double for the first time in four NCAA Tournament games.
But there was little doubt when it came time to award the Midwest Regional’s most outstanding player after the Jayhawks put away North Carolina 80-67 for the championship.
“You can look at him and he’s our presence,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “When he’s on the court, he’s our presence.”
Against a Tar Heels team that starts one of the largest front lines in college basketball, Robinson had 18 points and nine rebounds, and his play in the first half was perhaps the clearest indication that the Jayhawks were ready to play.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Among his six first-half baskets were a banked three from the top, a three-pointer and a spin move that resulted in a left-handed layup.
Robinson entered the game averaging 15 points and 13.7 boards, and like most of his teammates hadn’t been shooting well. His NCAA marksmanship was 38.1 percent entering the game.
But as North Carolina was shooting remarkably well in the first half — the Tar Heels made nine straight at one point and hit 63.6 percent for the half — Robinson took it upon himself to make sure the Jayhawks kept up.
He finished the half with 14 points.
“This game meant a lot to us and for the people who support this program,” Robinson said. “I wanted to let them know that I was on the court and I wanted to be aggressive.”
The Tar Heels noticed.
“Thomas Robinson is a fantastic player,” North Carolina center Tyler Zeller said. “Somebody that can drive the ball, shoot the ball, and he can score from inside. There’s a reason he’s up for (national) player of the year.”
Robinson’s frontline teammate, Jeff Withey, had his second big game in St. Louis with 15 points and three blocks, including two in the game’s final three minutes while Withey was playing with four fouls.
“Jeff was a load for us inside,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “A lot of times a guy with four fouls won’t guard you because he wants to stay in the game. Those were two big defensive plays.”
The reserve big men also pitched in. Kevin Young had eight rebounds, four of them on offense, and in his brief two minutes Justin Wesley tipped in a Robinson miss.
The Jayhawks outrebounded North Carolina 41-35. Two days earlier, the Tar Heels pulled down 63 rebounds against Ohio University.
“We did a good job,” Robinson said of the Kansas bigs. “Definitely Jeff coming down there and blocking those shots. And I just tried to be aggressive tonight.”
“Coach Self said last night when going over the report that we wanted to throw the first punch,” Robinson said. “We wanted to make them feel us every play.”
Robinson and Withey were joined on the all-regional team by KU’s Tyshawn Taylor, Zeller and Ohio’s Jeff Offutt.