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No. 1 Kansas advances to Sweet 16 for first time in three years

Sterling Gibbs, Devonte' Graham

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham, right, tries to steal the ball from Connecticut guard Sterling Gibbs during the first half of a second-round men’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)


Since losing to Kentucky in the 2012 national title game, South No. 1 Kansas has gone no further than the Sweet 16 in any of the three NCAA tournaments that followed. But this year’s edition of the Jayhawks are a more complete team than any of those three squads, and entering this tournament Bill Self’s team was seen by many as the favorites to cut down the nets.

Saturday night Kansas moved one step closer to its first national title in eight years with a 73-61 win over No. 9 UConn in Des Moines.

After going on a 13-0 run early in the first half Kansas ripped off a 19-0 that essentially removed any doubt regarding the outcome, as their play on both ends of the floor proved to be too much for the Huskies. Kevin Ollie’s team trimmed the deficit to nine in the second half, but at that point Kansas re-applied itself defensively to take control of the game for good.

UConn didn’t have an answer for Kansas’ offense for most of the game, with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting while also grabbing eight boards and Wayne Selden Jr. added 22 on 8-for-15 from the field. Kansas shot 56 percent in the first half, and if not for a sluggish start to the second half their percentage for the game would have been higher than the 49 percent they finished with.

Defensively the Jayhawks kept the Huskies out of the paint, forcing UConn to settle for challenged two-point shots and drives to the basket that resulted in Jamari Traylor blocks in a couple instances. And as the stops added up so did the margin, with Kansas controlling the boards on both ends of the floor as well.

Next up for Kansas is either No. 5 Maryland or No. 13 Hawai’i, and if they play anywhere near the level they played at for most of their two games in Des Moines the Big 12 champs are going to be an incredibly tough out.

There may not be a “star” with the hype of an Andrew Wiggins (2014) on this roster, but Kansas has the depth and talent needed to find an answer for whatever the opposition offers up. And given the topsy-turvy nature of both this season and this tournament, that may be enough to win the national title.