• Atlanta - Two of the most unlikely players on the Jayhawks roster provided spectacular performances, leading Kansas to its fourth national championship and a 78-76 victory over the Michigan St. Spartans Monday night in Atlanta. Isaiah Moss was an unlikely hero as he struggled much of the tournament to even gain time on the floor, finding Bill Self’s doghouse, and Udoka Azubuike because he was doubtful to even play.

    It was Moss, a grad transfer from Iowa, who provided the spectacular late game heroics, drilling a pressure-packed three pointer over MSU forward Aaron Henry with 2.2 seconds remaining to give Kansas the lead and the victory. KU trailed the Spartans 76-75, taking possession of the ball with 12 seconds left after an errant MSU shot.

    After a Kansas timeout with 9 seconds to go, KU sophomore Devon Dotson took the ball quickly up court finding forward Ochai Agbaji at the free throw line. Coming off of picture-perfect screen by Marcus Garrett, Agbaji hit Moss on the left wing. Henry switched to Moss, but Moss jabbed left and got off the shot of his life, winning it for Kansas. Michigan State’s attempted to inbound following Moss’ heroics was deflected by Garrett and the game was over.

    “Man, I don’t know what to say. I’m … it’s unreal. To hit the game-winning shot is why I came to Kansas,” exclaimed Moss, “This was a hard tournament. But coach Self just showed amazing confidence in me tonight. I felt invincible.”

    That confidence resulted in Moss’ surprise insertion into the starting line by Self. “I just had a hunch, I guess. I told Norm (Roberts) that he needed a boost. I also thought that as a senior, with this moment, he could come up big.”

    And boy did he ever. Moss was electric, hitting on six of eight three point attempts and leading the Jayhawks with 25 points. Moss seemed to capitalize as Michigan St. overplayed his outside shot late, scoring on two critical drives to the hoop late in the game. Kansas trailed 74-68 with 2:10 to go. Moss converted a lay-up to cut the lead to four. The Spartans came away empty when junior Xavier Tillman couldn’t convert near the rim at the 1:48 mark. Kansas used most of the shot clock, when Moss scored again at the basket, after looking like he was trapped.

    Winston then scored with 58 seconds left, giving the Spartans 76-72 advantage. KU sophomore Devon Dotson, who finished with 16 points, then rocketed down the court, fed Agbaji, who cut the lead to one with a three from the corner at the :52 mark. MSU then got down the court quickly themselves, but Henry missed a five footer. After a Winston rebound, KU then put the clamps on the Spartans and a rebound by Garrett with 12 seconds to play set up Moss’ heroics.

    But Moss wasn’t the only star. Udoka Azubuike, who was assumed to be out for the game, was inserted by coach Self with 9:24 left in the second half and KU down 59-55. Azubuike immediately scored on post entry pass from freshman Christian Braun, and a possession later, threw down a thunderous one handed dunk, avoiding his injured left hand, to tie the game. Kansas would later feed their big man for three consecutive baskets, which included a key three point play to tie the game again at the 3:30 mark. Azubuike would finish with 11 points on five of five shooting from the field, and two blocks.

    “Willis”, yelled coach Self after the game, directing the comment to senior Udoka Azubuike. It is unlikely that many in the KU locker room outside of the coaches caught the reference to New York Knicks legend, Willis Reed, who famously played on torn thigh muscle, besting former KU legend Wilt Chamberlain in game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals for the world championship.

    “What a stud,” said Braun, “He was begging coach to play but the trainer said he really couldn’t use that left hand. But we needed him.” Azubuike entered the game with McCormack in foul trouble, getting called for his fourth foul just before Azubuike entered. The star of the national semifinals, Silvio DeSousa, was ineffective in his 12 minutes of action to that point.

    It was revealed after the game that Azuibuike, in fact, had a partially torn ligament in his left wrist. Earlier reports did not indicate a tear. “The training staff felt he really could injure it further, that’s why I didn’t put him in before. But they said he’d probably have fall on it or hit on something,” Self said, “Doke’s a big boy and said he’d be careful. This is a once in a life-time chance. Sometimes it’s worth the risk.”

    Michigan St. will lament a lost opportunity. In the first 38 minutes of the game, the Spartans led for 35, and KU’s largest lead was just two. “We really played well early,” said Michigan St. coach Tom Izzo, who watched his team methodically stretch the lead to eight at halftime, 35-27. A that point, the Spartans seemed in control. “But we just couldn’t pull away. They always fought back. Their big guy (Azubuike) got some big baskets there.”

    Spartans star Cassius Winston scored 20 first half points as KU’s defense struggled for an answer. But it was another Bill Self decision that helped change the game. “When Garrett took him (Winston) we really slowed down”, said Izzo, “but we have a lot of good players and we should be able to adjust. That changed the momentum.”

    Self switched the defensive alignment, moving Garrett to Winston in place Agbaji. “Och didn’t do a bad job, it just wasn’t working,” said Self. “Marcus can guard anyone.” Garrett seemed to feel the same way. “Hey, I just stick. The dude (Winston) is incredible, but I just stick and harass,” said Garrett.

    Michigan St. guard Rocket Watts added 13 for the Spartans and Tillman finished with 12.

    For Bill Self, the national title answers many critics who have praised his regular season efforts but questioned KU’s tournament results. With a second national title, Self moves into elite company and becomes only fourth active coach with two championships (Williams, Wright, and Krzyzewski).

    The Kansas Jayhawks finish 37-3 on the season and will head back to Lawrence tonight. A rally is set a Memorial Stadium at 2:00 pm on Wednesday with a parade in downtown Lawrence beginning at 4:30 pm.

  • And right about now they should be cutting down the nets as we hear Luther Vandross sing “One Shining Moment.”

    If only…


  • I literally could cry…this sucks so much a$$.

  • A parade… hmmm, when will that happen again.

  • Thanks for the ride, HEM. Enjoyed it. Happy Udoka got his fanfiction moment in the spotlight.

  • For what it’s worth, The Athletic agrees with your assessment. They had Azubuike going beast mode for the win over MSU as well.

  • Not too surprised that Moss would step up…he looked like a streaky shooter to me. Some nights he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, but when he was hot, he was red hot.

  • Where can I get a t-shirt?!

  • Thanks for doing this @HighEliteMajor. Good stuff

  • @HighEliteMajor I knew we needed him, I just didn’t know if Moss was up for it. Wow. Bill Self won this one the Bill Self way… and with the 4-1. As @drgnslayr says, I smell a run!

  • Thanks @HighEliteMajor, you showed a lot of heart getting through these, given the times. Seriously. Much appreciated.

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