A look back at some of the more overshadowed moments of Kansas' title-game win over UNC
By now, whether you watched it just once live, have watched a couple of replays since or simply can’t stop watching it at all, you’re well aware of all of the key plays in Monday’s 72-69 win over North Carolina that delivered Kansas the 2022 national title.
There were the two big buckets by David McCormack late. There was the defensive stand by Christian Braun on UNC’s final shot to tie the game. And there were the four 3-point makes by Remy Martin, including two absolute ice-in-your-veins swishes late in the second half.
But what about the plays that aren’t as well remembered or didn’t grab quite as much attention in the aftermath of the win and those aforementioned big moments that led to it?
Just about every game has plays like those. And this year’s national championship game was no different. While the plays listed above might have been the most critical, in a game where a team comes back from 15 down at the break, every single positive play winds up being huge.
Kansas had plenty of those in the second half and in this space we’ll look back at a few of the most overlooked on KU’s road to the cutting down the nets.
1 – Remy Martin’s late block
Arguably the biggest defensive play of the entire season, Martin was beat on the drive to his right by UNC sophomore Caleb Love and had to do some hand fighting to recover.
The officials let that go and Love still had a fairly clear path to the basket with less than a minute to play and UNC trailing by a point. A bucket here would’ve put all the pressure on the Jayhawks.
But, perhaps sensing that he would not get over in time to cut off the drive, Martin slipped behind love and blocked the shot from behind. Replays show that Love went up with the clear belief that he had a layup. But Martin swatted it out of bounds from behind to save the possession and allow KU to reset its defense.
On the very next play, with KU still leading by one, UNC big man Armando Bacot fell down on his drive to the rim, turning the ball over to Kansas, which got a bucket from McCormack to go up by three with 22 seconds to play.
For a guy known for his offense, who struggled mightily to play Kansas-level, Bill-Self-approved defense, this was a terrific play at a massive moment.
2 – Dajuan Harris Jr. forces the inbounds turnover
The second half started about as perfectly as it could for Kansas, with a stop and a score on the first two possessions.
But there was a play in there that didn’t actually end up leading to points for Kansas that looked, to me, like it played a huge role in the KU comeback and the UNC collapse.
Right after David McCormack scored on a lob to cut the lead to 40-27 — assistant coach Jeremy Case, who had the scout for the game, told me that play was his favorite, by the way — Harris forced a UNC turnover when Leaky Black stepped over the baseline before inbounding it while trying to get the ball to Caleb Love.
Love was hounded by Harris, who gave him nowhere to go. And Black’s momentum carried him onto the court without anyone to pass to, which led to the turnover.
As I mentioned, KU did not score off of this, but it happened right in front of me and the looks in the eyes of Love and Black led me to believe they knew the game was not in the bag. In fact, it looked as if the play took their soul and panic started to set in.
3 – Remy Martin’s hard drive to the rim to put KU up 65-61
In looking back at my running score sheet from this one, I noticed that all three of Martin’s 3-pointers in the second half broke ties. Incredible.
The first gave KU a 53-50 lead midway through the second half, marking the Jayhawks’ first lead of the game since 18-16 early in the first half. The second gave KU a 60-57 lead after UNC’s Puff Johnson had tied the game at 57 with a 3-pointer of his own. And the third, which has been the most shown and probably was the most incredible, pushed KU to a 68-65 lead after Martin drained a step-back 3 from the wing in front of the KU bench, over the outstretched arm of UNC big man Armando Bacot.
As clutch and incredible as all three of those shots were, Martin’s hard drive to the rim and finish through contact with his left hand might have been even wilder. UNC had just cut a four-point KU lead back down to two and the Jayhawks were trying to hang on. Martin, who had a somewhat rough first half, instantly flipped the switch to attack mode and scored the tough basket to push KU’s lead back to two possessions.
Although the Tar Heels wound up tying the game again — and even took a late lead — after that, Martin’s bucket made sure it didn’t happen any earlier and may have kept Carolina from wrestling back any of the momentum that KU had stolen.
Just for fun, since they didn’t end up hurting anything in the long run, let’s look back at three moments that didn’t go KU’s way that surely seemed agonizing at the time.
1 – Ochai Agbaji’s 1-for-3 trip to the FT line
In the two possessions after UNC’s RJ Davis scored on a third-chance bucket to put the Tar Heels back up by a dozen after a KU run early in the second half, KU got five quick points to cut the lead back down to seven.
That set the stage for Ochai Agbaji to draw a foul on Leaky Black on a 3-point attempt with Kansas trailing 45-38 with 14:50 to play. With KU stealing some of the momentum back, this moment seemed huge. Agbaji, the All-American senior leader, surely was headed to the line to cut the UNC lead to four. Until he wasn’t.
Agbaji missed the first and third of the three free throw attempts, even going as far as to say to himself, ‘Oh my God,’ after the first miss.
Agbaji finished 3-of-8 at the free throw line on the night, a stat line that may have haunted him and Kansas fans forever had the Jayhawks not made enough plays the rest of the way.
2 – Agbaji’s 3-pointer that went around, down and out with 11:25 to play and Kansas trailing 48-47
Despite the two free throw misses mentioned above, KU kept coming, trimming the lead to one on two occasions in the next 3:30 of game time.
Christian Braun was responsible for cutting it to one both times, and, after the second, following a UNC 3-point miss on the other end, Agbaji rose and fired from the wing to give Kansas the lead.
The ball rolled around the entire rim and even went down halfway before squirting out.
Even though the Jayhawks still had all of the momentum and more than 11 minutes remaining to get the job done, that miss seemed cruel in the moment, like one of those that shows you that no matter how hard you fight and how close you get, you just might not be able to get over the hump. KU did, of course. But no one knew it at that moment.
3 – David McCormack’s third foul
Part of the reason it seemed so obvious that McCormack should win Most Outstanding Player honors was because of how clear it was that Kansas was fine when he was on the floor and in trouble when he wasn’t.
UNC big man Armando Bacot was too much for the rest of the Jayhawks to handle consistently, and he had a terrific finish to the first half when McCormack sat with two fouls.
Then, 1:24 into the second half, McCormack was whistled for his third foul with a whole bunch of time still remaining and KU down by 13 points.
From my seat, it didn’t look like much of a foul. But I’ve talked to enough people who said he hit Davis pretty hard. That foul was the play that preceded the forced turnover by Harris mentioned above.
And the fact that Self chose to roll with McCormack despite the three fouls told you how dire the situation was for Kansas.
It turned out to be a genius move, McCormack played a massive role in the comeback and the win and McCormack fouled just once more in the 17:31 of court time he saw the rest of the game.