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April 5, 2008
SAN ANTONIO ? Sometimes a bad first half can kill you.
The Tar Heels shot 29 percent (9-for-31) in the opening 20 minutes. They didn't exactly make up for it with their defense, allowing the Jayhawks to shoot 54.5 percent (18 of 33).
"We definitely played the best basketball we've played in the first half, that first 15 minutes," said Kansas guard Brandon Rush, who finished with a game-high 25 points. "We got out, got some easy baskets, and we made them work on the defensive end. We outrebounded them in the first half, too."
Indeed the Jayhawks did, pulling in 23 boards to the Tar Heels' 15.
"Early in the game, they were much more aggressive than we were," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We sort of came out a little more casual than we'd like to. They hit us right between the eyes.
"We probably rushed things a little bit. They just kept hammering."
Kansas used an 18-0 first-half run to take a commanding 33-10 lead at the 9:31 mark. After North Carolina's Deon Thompson hit a jumper with 13:35 to go, the Tar Heels didn't score again until Hansbrough made two free throws with 8:42 left.
In the meantime, five Jayhawks scored, including five points apiece from Mario Chalmers and Rush. KU got out in transition and beat North Carolina down the floor. The Jayhawks pushed the lead to as much as 28 in the first half before the Tar Heels were able to whittle it to 44-27 at the break.
"There were eight guys that played at a very, very high level for the first 15 minutes of the game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I mean, that was a pleasure for me to watch."
It was the most points UNC had surrendered in the first half during the tournament, and far and away the fewest they had scored. Their previous first-half tournament low was 35 against Washington State in the East Regional semifinals.
"We were great," Kansas forward Darnell Jackson said. "We were moving the ball, making extra passes. Guys were getting layups in transition. We were just running the floor."
BIG OFF THE BENCH
Freshman center Cole Aldrich came off the bench and gave the Jayhawks a huge contribution. He tied his season-high with 17 minutes and posted eight points (his second-highest total) and seven rebounds.
"I didn't expect him to play that much," Self said. "I didn't expect Darnell and Sasha (Kaun) to get two fouls right off the bat. I didn't expect Sasha to get two fouls in two minutes. But it's probably a good thing that things played out the way they did because Cole was unbelievable. He was as good an inside performer as we had tonight."
Aldrich, a former Rivals.com four-star prospect, played 13 minutes in the first half and held his own against Hansbrough.
"I just knew coming into the game that it was going to be tough going against him," Aldrich said. "Being the AP Player of the Year, he's obviously good. He's got tenacious abilities, and he's going after every rebound, whether it be right in front of him or 15 feet away from him. He's going to try to get every rebound. I just tried to match his intensity."
TOUGH ON TYLER
The Jayhawks used all of their big bodies to keep Hansbrough in check, limiting him 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
"They came after me with a lot of people," Hansbrough said. "That's what every team has been doing. ? They did a particularly good job of it. I don't think I played the best, but you know, they played really good 'D.' "
Hansbrough was not asked if he would return to North Carolina for his senior season.
"I have no idea," coach Roy Williams said. "Tyler and I talked before the season, said we would discuss it after the season is over with. We'll probably sit down Tuesday or Wednesday and try to start making some decisions. Maybe not some decisions, but come up with a plan to give me some time to look into it with NBA people."
COACHING SALARIES ON RISE
Rumors are rampant that whoever winds up with the Oklahoma State coaching job could make north of $3 million per season. What does that mean a coach who gets to the Final Four is worth?
"This is a great country and the marketplace has many factors that determine a coach's value," North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said. "You just have to go with the flow. I do worry that eventually it will put a strain on the system."
Baddour said Williams' contract includes bonuses for reaching the Final Four.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.