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WITH 17 SECONDS REMAINING in the Midwest Regional final at Ford Field in Detroit and Kansas clinging to a 59-57 lead over Davidson, Wildcats guard Stephen Curry, the tournament's hottest shooter, slowly dribbled up the court. With the season on the line, the Jayhawks needed one more defensive stop. Curry crossed midcourt and was swarmed by Kansas forward Brandon Rush and guard Sherron Collins, forcing him to defer at the last second to senior point guard Jason Richards, who hoisted a 25-footer from the top of the arc. "The shot was wide left. Then the horn blew," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "You know, you picture winning a big game like that, you make a shot, you celebrate. This was not one of those deals. I just wanted to make sure that I hurried up and shook hands and the officials left the court so they couldn't put any more time back on the clock."
You can't blame Self for not wanting to go back—to the game, or to all those years he had been denied this very achievement. Entering the game, Self had five Elite Eight appearances (2000, '01, '04, '07 and '08). Now, finally, he added a Final Four to his r�sum�.
The No. 1 seed Jayhawks stopped No. 10 seed Davidson's Cinderella run by relying on their signature defense. In the regular season Kansas ranked fifth in the nation in field-goal-percentage defense (38.2) and held 33 of 34 opponents to less than 50% shooting. On this night Kansas had to depend on D in part because of a dismal night on offense. The Jayhawks made just three of their first 14 shots and finished with their lowest points total since Dec. 2. The lone bright spots were junior guard Mario Chalmers, who carried the team in the first half with 11 points, and 6' 11", 250-pound senior Sasha Kaun, who hit all six of his field goal attempts.
The player who struggled the most was the Jayhawks' leading scorer, Rush, who shot just 4 of 14. But he made up for it by shutting down Curry, the Midwest Regional MVP, who had averaged 34.3 points in his first three 2008 tournament games and who had set an NCAA record with his 162 three-pointers this season. Rush, along with Chalmers, point guard Russell Robinson, and Collins, face-guarded and double-teamed Curry all night long. He finished with 25 points but was just 9 of 25 from the field.
Against Villanova, Kansas had faced another sharpshooting guard in Scottie Reynolds, who was averaging 20.3 points, 4.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the postseason. This time Robinson was the stopper, holding Reynolds to 4 of 13 with 11 points and four turnovers.
Facing their first pack of Wildcats, the Jayhawks' offense was on fire from the tip-off. Kansas jumped to a 26-10 lead nine minutes into the game and cruised to a 72-57 win; Robinson went 3 of 5 from behind the arc, and Rush led the team with 16 points (6 of 12 from the field).
With the two wins at Ford Field, Kansas also filled the last slot in a historic foursome: All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four for the first time in modern NCAA tournament history. After the win over Davidson, Self admitted he had felt some pressure. "I was really, really wanting Texas to [beat Memphis] big-time. You know, I like Rick [Barnes], and they're in the same league," said Self. "But there was one other reason: because it's never happened before. So when Texas [lost], I'm like, Good gosh, we got to make history today."