KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Twitter, the 140-character communication phenomenon, can be informative, entertaining and maddening. During the NCAA Tournament, all three descriptions reply.
Top-seeded Kansas survived and advanced to the South Regional Sweet 16 with a 70-58 victory over No. 8 seed North Carolina at the Sprint Center Sunday. The game was a tale of two halves. These selected Tweets are instructive in helping tell the story that enabled the Jayhawks to advance to the South Regional semifinal against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium Friday.
From Jason King, ESPN.com: Kansas missing more bunnies than Elmer Fudd.
It was Loony Tunes for Kansas in the first half. The Jayhawks struggled against No. 16 seed Western Kentucky Friday night and Bill Self chalked it up to being nervous playing so close to home. Nothing changed for the first half against the Tar Heels.
Kansas fell behind 12-2 missing 11 of its first 12 shots – eight of which were point-blank tries. The Jayhawks rallied to take a 17-16 lead but the Tar Heels closed the half with a 14-4 run to lead 30-21 at intermission.
"We made some bone head plays, me in particular," KU's Jeff Withey said. "I had six turnovers and was throwing it right to 'em."
Actually, Withey had "just" five turnovers. The Kansas carnage included 7-of-28 shooting and 12 turnovers, which North Carolina converted into 11 points.
The Jayhawks lead the nation in field goal percentage defense and at times it appears if the KU offense went against the KU defense no points would be scored. Kansas struggles to score, particularly when freshman leading scorer Ben McLemore scores two points on free throws.
So, did Self go Knute Rockne or Bob Knight at halftime?
"I just told 'em we need to just keep doing what we're doing we'll be fine," he said with dripping sarcasm. "I wasn't happy with 'em. We weren't ourselves, we were sped up, played nervous and timid, they beat us to loose balls. Our basketball IQ wasn't high."
When Self finished, the players spoke. One in particular was heard above the others.
"I asked the team if they wanted this to be their last 20 minutes of ball," said Travis Releford, one of the team's four seniors. "If they didn't, they needed to go out and give it their all."
Another Tweet, this from Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com: "North Carolina is not going to like the 20-5 Kansas run that's coming."
It was actually a 22-6 run, but close enough.
"I said, 'Let's go win the first four minutes. Don't let nine become 13 or 15,'" Self said.
When McLemore couldn't convert a lob out of a set play on KU's first possession, it appeared the misery would continue. But Withey converted an offensive rebound and then Releford found himself open on the left wing for a 3-pointer.
The Jayhawks had missed its 11 3-point attempts in this NCAA tourney.
"I felt like I was open, it felt good," said Releford, who had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting plus eight rebounds. "I just let it go, stepped into it and didn't think about the shots in the past."
The basketball found nylon and the KU fans' sigh was as loud as the cheers that followed. During the 22-6 run, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe had threes and the Jayhawks had a 43-36 lead.
North Carolina, which shot 26.2 percent in the first half but had 14 more attempts, wound up firing 18 more shots for the game. The Kansas defense held the Tar Heels to 30.1 percent shooting and 6-of-21 on 3-pointers.
"They led the nation in defensive field goal percentage for a reason," North Carolina coach Roy Williams sad. "We never did quite get settled down in the second half and get what we wanted and didn't have the sense of urgency that we had in the first half on the defensive end of the floor."
Kevin Young found time to score 10 points with nine rebounds when he wasn't guarding North Carolina's P.J. Hairston. The 6-8 Young is usually guarding post players but he was on the perimeter to hound Hairston, the Tar Heels' top scorer. He had 15 points on 17 shots.
"One thing we had to do was do a great job on Hairston," Self said.
"I think Kev did a great job out there," said Releford, who locked down the Tar Heels' second-leading scorer, Reggie Bullock. "He knew we was going to have to be the key to our defense."
Two more Tweets: Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star: The possible first pick in the draft is 0-for-9, benched most of the second half, and KU is blowing UNC out. And Rustin Dodd, Kansas City Star: Basketball is easier when you make layups. #analysis.
Less than seven minutes into the second half, Kansas had equaled its first half number of field goals. The Jayhawks shot 63 percent in the second half. Tharpe came off the bench for 12 key points, including three 3-pointers. Releford finished with 22 while Withey had 16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Tharpe was in the game to help facilitate ball control against North Carolina's pressure. That meant that McLemore was on the bench. He finished with a season-low two points.
McLemore has been held below his 16.4 per game average 10 of the last 11 games (the only anomaly was a career-high 35 in KU's final home game). In those 10 games, he is 42-of-106 from the field and 18-of-58 from 3-point range.
"We're going to go right back to him (McLemore)," said Self who in 10 seasons at KU is 300-58. "We were a better team when Naadir came in. It wasn't hard not to play Ben because he's the best teammate on our team. These guys will tell you. He's just happy to win."
Just happy to win … a phrase that, for Self and Kansas, would be worth a Tweet.