DES MOINES, IOWA — The Kansas Jayhawks will not be the first team to repeat as national champions in the last 16 years, but they are the seventh consecutive defending champions to be eliminated in the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Foul trouble, sloppy late-game execution and a second-half meltdown all contributed to KU’s 72-71 season ending loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Jayhawks led for a vast majority of the game, including an eight-point advantage at halftime and a 12-point lead wit just 15:20 to play. From that point forward, though, the Razorbacks were in control. Arkansas ended the game on a 38-25 run, taking advantage of major foul trouble for the KU bigs and an ice-cold shooting performance.
Kansas shot 48% from the floor for the game and 45.5% in the second half, but also had multiple stretches devoid of any made field goals. That included 4:27 without a made shot from the floor in the middle of the half, simultaneously to an 11-0 Arkansas run, as well as no made field goals is the final 3:48 of game time. In fact, Kansas only attempted two shots in that last stretch, equal to its number of turnovers in the same segment.
As for the foul trouble, most of the mid-half Razorbacks comeback occurred while Kansas acting head coach Norm Roberts tried to manage his post players’ minutes. Both sophomore forward K.J. Adams and freshman center Ernest Udeh picked up four personal fouls by the 16-minute mark of the second half, forcing reserves Zuby Ejiofor and Zach Clemence into emergency minutes.
Adams played with those four fouls for the final 8:22, but was out for most of Arkansas’s run.
“It was definitely hard sitting on the bench when all the exciting stuff was going on,” Adams said. “But I got in on the clutch moments and we just couldn’t roll, but everybody did good and everybody did good when I wasn’t out there.”
Senior guard Kevin McCullar also got in foul trouble and fouled out with just 23 seconds left.
The Jayhawks still had multiple chances to take the lead and claim the victory late, but that’s also likely when they missed coach Bill Self the most. Roberts was leading Kansas from sideline for the fifth game in a row because Self wasn’t ready to return following his heart procedure last week.
Specifically, three key moments illustrated KU’s late-game woes.
With the game tied 59-59 with five minutes to play, Kansas junior guard Dajuan Harris was called for a 10-second violation, failing to get the ball in the front court. The Razorbacks took the lead 13 seconds later.
With under 90 seconds to play, coming out of a timeout, the Jayhawks didn’t get off a clean shot and committed a shot clock violation. Arkansas scored on its next possession.
And with only eight seconds left and facing a three-point deficit, KU elected to try for a quick two-point basket instead of a three. Junior forward Jalen Wilson made two free throws after getting fouled on his shot attempt, but two more Arkansas free throws on the following possession was too much for KU to overcome.
“It was a tough game, give Arkansas a lot of credit,” Roberts said. “They did a great job in the second half attacking us.”
Wilson led the Jayhawks in scoring with 20 points in the last game of his Kansas career, his seventh in a row and 22nd of the season.
Despite the team high in scoring, Wilson was limited by Arkansas’s athletic defense throughout most of the second half. He only made two field goals after halftime, both of which came in a 30-second stretch in the first three minutes of the half.
“I just love this place so much, putting on this jersey every day has changed my life for the rest of my life,” Wilson said. “I will always remember putting on this jersey, and I want to be remembered as a guy that loved this place and did everything to make this place special.”
Adams scored 14 points for KU in the losing effort, while McCullar had 13 and Harris added 12. Freshman guard Gradey Dick, a projected first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft who also may have played his final game for Kansas, finished with just seven points.
“We’ve dealt with that all year, but they have some long athletes that made it tough on him to get shots,” Roberts said about Dick. “I don’t think we screened as well as we wanted to for him, maybe we could have run a few more things for him, but they did nullify him a little bit.”
The Razorbacks shot 41.4% for the game but nearly 47% in the second half. They also had two scorers pass the 20-point threshold, including 25 from junior guard Davonte Davis and 21 from junior guard Ricky Council IV.
“We’re celebrating back there because we have such incredible respect for Kansas, defending champions, MVP of their league in No. 10, Jalen Wilson,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “They are a hard, hard, hard team to prepare for.”
The loss also continues an up-and-down trend for Kansas in recent years. In even-numbered years since 2018, the Jayhawks have made the Final Four, been arguably the best team in the country and won a national championship. In the odd-numbered years, including this season, KU has been bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament each time.
It was undeniably a successful campaign for Kansas, winning another Big 12 championship and earning the 16th No. 1 seed in program history. But, as is the case with defending champions and programs of KU’s stature, there’s also no denying that the season is ending far too long before the Jayhawks either hoped or expected it to.
Click below to hear what Norm Roberts and the Jayhawks had to say following KU’s 72-71 loss to Arkansas.